The rescue of more than 5,600 migrants off Libya was coordinated by Italy on October 3 – three years to the day after 366 people died in a sinking that first alerted the world to the Mediterranean migrant crisis.
As reported by the Agence France-Presse (AFP), the October 3 rescue is a poignant reminder of the ongoing drama being played out on Europe’s southern shores. At least nine bodies were recovered from a total of 39 distressed vessels, the bulk of them overcrowded rubber dinghies but also including five converted fishing boats.
Almost 200 children were among those saved, according to NGO SOS Mediterranee. Most of them were unaccompanied and nine were under five years old. At least 10 of the 191 women on board were pregnant.
Two women and a child had to be evacuated for medical treatment after suffering severe burns caused by spilled fuel during a rescue from a rubber dinghy by a boat operated by the Doctors without Borders (MSF) charity.
In the 2013 disaster, a fishing boat packed with some 500 people caught fire and sank rapidly in darkness just off the outlying Italian island of Lampedusa in the night of October 2-3. The disaster resulted in Italy’s navy launching a large-scale search and rescue operation that has since evolved into a multinational effort involving groups like MSF and Save the Children.
The Reuters news agency noted that about 10 ships from the coast guard, the navy and humanitarian organisations were involved in the rescues, most of which took place off the coast of Libya on October 3.
“Three years later and people continue to die in their thousands – nothing has changed. Indifference is killing people,” said the president of the Italian Red Cross, Francesco Rocca.
Last year, Italy declared October 3 a national day of commemoration and welcome in honour of the dead. A commemorative march was held on Lampedusa with 200 youths from all over Europe and relatives of some of the victims taking part.
According to the International Organisation for Migration, around 132,000 migrants have arrived in Italy since the start of the year and 3,054 have died.
The ANSAmed news agency reported that quoted Italian House Speaker Laura Boldrini urging the European Union to step up to the plate for refugees. “Memory… is not enough when the numbers continue equalling those of a massacre,” Boldrini said in a statement issued on October 3. “Today for the first time we mark the Day of Memory as legislated by parliament in honour of the 366 people who lost their lives three years ago in Lampedusa.”
“The victims so far this year total 3,500, an increase from the previous year,” she added. “Italy continues in its extraordinary rescue effort, but hosting [asylum seekers] must not only involve a scarce number of European countries. We need all the States in the Union to take on their share of the responsibility, just as they take their share of incoming EU resources.”
“Lampedusa’s dead call on Europe not to forget its responsibilities,” Boldrini concluded.
Meanwhile, new data published by Italy’s national statistics office ISTAT show that some four million immigrants from countries outside the European Union were officially living in Italy at the start of January 2016.
Moroccans make up the largest share of non-EU immigrants officially registered as living in Italy, totalling 510,450, and Albanians are second at 482,959. There are about 333,986 Chinese regularly present in Italy, 240,141 Ukrainians and 169,394 Indians.
While long-term stays make up about 59.5% of the total, ANSAmed reported the number of new resident permits being issued to non-EU citizens is declining. In 2015, 238,936 were issued, 3.9% less than in 2014. Admissions for work reasons fell 62%, while admissions of people requesting asylum or humanitarian protection increased 40.5%.
The ISTAT data also shows that most regular non-EU immigrants in Italy live in the centre or north of the country. A total of 36.6% are in the north-western regions, 26.8% are in the north east, 23.5% are in the centre and only 13.2% have a permit issued or renewed in the south.
The regions with the highest number of official non-EU immigrants are Lombardy with 26.3%, Emilia-Romagna with 11.7% and Veneto with 11.0%. About 12% are based in Milan and 8.7% in Rome.