Italy: Memorial ceremony held for Lampedusa shipwreck victims

Italy: Memorial ceremony held for Lampedusa shipwreck victims agrigento

Agrigento, 21 Oct. (AKI) – Top Italian officials including deputy prime minister Angelino Alfano and integration minister Cecil Kyenge attended a ceremony in Sicily on Monday to commemorate the 366 migrants who drowned in a shipwreck off Lampedusa island on 3 October.

Most of the victims were Eritreans, and dozens of their compatriots living in Italy travelled to the Sicilian city of Agrigento for the memorial ceremony, wearing the traditional costume of their country.

Some of the Eritreans, protested that more than 150 migrants who were rescued from the shipwreck were not invited to the ceremony.

"Why haven't the 157 people who survived the shipwreck not been invited?" read a banner unfurled by two Eritreans.

Dozens of would-be asylum seekers from Eritrea broke out of Lampedusa's reception centre and held a peaceful sit in after they were told there were no plans to take them to Agrigento, while a smaller group was granted an audience in the town hall.

"They tell us it is not possible, not possible, but why?" one of the survivors told the SkyTG24 news channel, asking not to be filmed and declining to give his name.

The service was organised after the government failed to keep a promise made by prime minister Enrico Letta during a visit to Lampedusa after the tragedy that a state funeral would be held for the shipwreck victims.

Instead, the victims were buried in scattered locations in mainland Sicily, often without proper identification and in the absence of relatives.

Alfano, who is also Italy's interior minister and secretary of the conservative People of Freedom party, defended the government's actions.

"We looked after the survivors and gave a dignified burial to the dead," he said.

Congolese-born Kyenge declined to comment to journalists when she arrived in Agriento on Monday.

Lampedusa's mayor Giusi Nicolini boycotted the event, arguing it should have taken place in her island, while Sicily's president Rosario Crocetta slammed the European Union's borders agency, Frontex as a "disaster".

Frontex currently helps Italy to intercept migrant boats, but the two EU operations in the southern Mediterranean have limited resources – a total of four ships, two helicopters and two planes. The agency's budget was cut from 118m million euros in 2011 to 85 million euros in 2013.

The African Union announced that November 3 would be a "continental day of mourning" for those who died off Lampedusa's coast.

The worst migrant boat accident in recent European history, the Lampedusa shipwreck prompted an international outcry and plans by the EU to launch a Mediterranean-wide search operation to rescue migrants.

A second migrant boat, mostly carrying Syrian and Palestinian refugees, sank at sea south of Malta and Lampedusa, killing at least 38 people on 11 October, and in September, 13 migrants drowned metres from a Sicilian beach.

The influx of desperate migrants fleeing conflict and poverty is continuing, despite the recent sea tragedies. On Sunday, 254 people, including 94 children and two pregnant women were rescued some 150 nautical miles from Sicily's south-eastern tip.

Italy last stepped up its air and sea patrols in the southern Mediterranean last week and announced it was deploying a pilotless drone, five navy vessels, two military helicopters and a plane equipped with night vision to rescue migrants in the Strait of Sicily.