27th Oct 2016

Italy grants citizenship to Lampedusa dead

  • Letta meeting with Pope Francis on Friday (Photo: Palazzochigi)

The death toll of the shipwreck near the Italian island of Lampedusa reached 194 over the weekend, as divers recovered more bodies from the sea.

The search continues, with about 200 migrants still missing, while 155 were rescued after their boat, which was carrying people mostly from Somalia and Eritrea, caught fire and capsized on Thursday (3 October).

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"The hundreds who lost their lives off Lampedusa yesterday are Italian citizens as of today," Prime Minister Enrico Letta said on Friday - an official day of mourning for the victims.

But for the survivors, crammed in a refugee centre hosting four times more people than its normal capacity, the situation remains dire. Under a law passed by the previous centre-right government, "clandestine immigrants" are considered illegal and have to pay fines of up to €5,000.

Italian integration minister Cecile Kyenge visited the island on Sunday and promised to change the law.

"The rules must be changed, we can't just have to approach immigration with repression, but we need also one of acceptance," Kyenge told Italian television.

She also promised to triple the capacity of Italian immigration centres to 24,000 people.

Meanwhile, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso has announced he will visit Lampedusa on Wednesday.

"The visit will take place in the spirit of European support and solidarity expressed by the commission following last week's tragic events," his office said.

It added that the commission is "fully committed" to help member states in coping with refugees.

Interior ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday are set to discuss the issue, with EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton also present at the debate to highlight the need for EU countries to take more refugees from places like Syria.

Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders has also called for a "joined-up European policy of global immigration," in which border controls are "just one element."

But any changes to the current regime - a patchwork of national rules - are unlikely to happen overnight.

For the migrants in Lampedusa, and the thousands of others waiting in Libya or Tunisia to attempt a similar crossing, the EU deliberations will make little difference for now.

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