More than 600 migrants arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa at the weekend, as the island marked the anniversary of the tragic shipwreck which claimed the lives of over 360 migrants eight years ago.
During the night of Saturday, October 2 to Sunday, it was reported that between 400 and 600 migrants arrived on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, in up to 18 different small boats. Some of them arrived under their own steam while others were rescued near the coast by the Italian coast guard and other ships.
15 Tunisians, including four minors, were stopped by Italy’s tax police Guardia di Finanza as they arrived on the quay at Madonnina. Other migrants, reported ANSA, came from Bangladesh, Sudan and Egypt.
A tweet from the private rescue organization Sea Watch summed up events on Lampedusa over the weekend. Its plane Seabird observed many of the arrivals from the sky.
Four-month-old baby rescued
Some boats had as few as 15 on board, and some as many as 95, said ANSA. Local media in Sicily reported that among those rescued were a four-month-old baby and a sheep, according to the news agency Associated Press (AP). The group was taken to begin quarantine on board one of the ferries moored off the coast.
The Italian newspaper, Il Messaggero added that the sheep too was expected to undergo a quarantine and was being held at the migrant reception center or "hotspot" on Lampedusa.
An Italian ship, the Asso Ventinove, which supplies the offshore oil platforms just off the coast of Libya, rescued 65 migrants "including women and children," reported AP in a separate bulletin. The wooden boat carrying this group had been spotted by the NGO monitoring plane Seabird when its engine failed.
Seabird sent a request to the authorities and the Asso Ventinove came to the migrants' rescue. Once on board they all appeared to be in good health, according to the crew of the Asso Ventinove. The captain of the Italian vessel said he was awaiting orders from Rome to tell him which would be a safe port to disembark the group. In pictures taken from Seabird, the migrants sit huddled on the enormous deck.
The Libyan coastguard arrived soon after the migrants had been brought on board. As AP reported, it is common for the Libyans to take the engines following rescues. In the past, some coast guard teams have also been accused of actually running smuggling operations themselves.
According to AP, the number of migrants at the emergency hotspot in Lampedusa is greater than 900, while the center is designed to hold a maximum of 250 people. While the numbers of arrivals increased, on land a Catholic priest and a Muslim imam joined together to hold a service to remember the 368 people who died when their boat capsized on October 3, 2013.
Among the dead were many Eritreans and Ethiopians, who became trapped inside the boat when it overturned. More people who did manage to escape the boat drowned as they attempted to swim ashore.
Flowers and a wreath laid at sea
Those who attended the memorial service threw flowers into the waters off Lampedusa, reported AP. Among those at the service were the 155 people who survived the tragedy, according to the Italian national broadcaster, Rai news.
Rai added that the Italian authorities had attempted to investigate which smuggling ring was behind putting so many people in one boat, in order to bring those responsible to justice. But in eight years little progress has been made.
The Tunisian man accused of piloting the boat is thought to have started a fire in order to attract the authorities' attention, but the fire made those on board panic, reports Rai, and their movements may have caused the boat to overturn.
At 3:15, the time at which the tragedy took place eight years ago, the memorial service began. A choir "The voices of the sea" (Le Voci del mare) from the Luigi Pirandello school complex in Lampedusa and Linosa sang in memory of those who died.
Path to peace
After flowers were laid on the sea the memorial concluded with the inauguration of a new peace exhibition "Percorso della Pace" (Path to Peace) which, according to the promoters of the exhibition, is not only meant to commemorate the dead but also provide the path towards building a better future on the island.
Among the dignitaries present, reported Rai, was the Lampedusan doctor Pietro Bartolo, who is now a member of the European Parliament and the vice president of the commission for civil liberties, justice and internal affairs at the parliament.
In a video message sent from Rome and posted on Facebook, the President of the Italian Parliament Roberto Fico said that the kind of tragedy that occurred eight years ago was "unacceptable." He called on all parties to do more to intervene in the causes and drivers of migration, and make sure that there was more sustainable development in the migrants' countries of origin.
Sea Watch tweeted that despite agreement among politicians, people were still going missing and dying. This year, according to UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) figures, more than 44,000 people have reached Italy over the Mediterranean route. Over 1,000 people are estimated to have died or gone missing this year over the same route.
On October 3, Seawatch tweeted that "as of yesterday, 40 people are missing of the Libyan coast." They also implored Europe's leaders to make sure that such tragedies are not repeated. "Eurpoe cannot simply accept this tragedy," stated Sea Watch.
Fico said that inequality between Africa and Europe needed to be reduced and that the European Union needed to come up with more strategies to address that, Rai reported. He reminded his fellow European countries that dealing with migration should not be left to individual countries, like Italy, but should be dealt with at a European level instead.
The Mayor of Lampedusa, Totò Martello, said that "eight years on from the tragedy, politicians had still done nothing.
"In fact, even as we are commemorating the deaths, more people are arriving on our shores, and still the deaths continue," Martello added.