ROME: Anger erupted in Italy yesterday over the deaths at sea of 30 migrants, as Rome stood accused of worsening a years-long crisis which has seen 5,000 desperate refugees rescued in the past 24 hours.
As officials in southern Italy warned they were overwhelmed by the arrivals, the EU announced a plan to help Rome deal with the refuges and combat people smuggling. Rescuers found the latest migrant victims stuffed into the hold of a fishing boat from north Africa when they boarded to help the most vulnerable of almost 600 migrants in the vessel.
A navy doctor said the migrants had “likely suffocated” in the tiny space, and “advised against removing the bodies” as it was not yet clear whether there were poisonous gases in the hold which might affect others.
Critics rounded on the Italian government, charging that its migrant rescue operation, dubbed “Mare Nostrum” (“Our Sea”), was partly to blame for the crisis.
“Another 30 dead in a boat. Another 30 deaths on the consciences of those who defend ‘Mare Lorum’ (Their Sea),” said the head of the anti-immigration Northern League, Matteo Salvini.
The League has warned Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s government that plucking asylum seekers and migrants to safety from rickety boats only encourages more to set out across the Mediterranean for Europe.
“Renzi and Alfano’s shirts are soaked in blood,” Salvini said in a Facebook post, targeting the centre-left leader and his interior minister Angelino Alfano.
Maurizio Gasparri, the Senate leader of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, also blasted Renzi’s “demented” navy operation and the “thousands of landings, deaths, tragedy, chaos. We cannot go on like this.”
The rescued fishing boat was being towed by the Italian navy and was expected to arrive Tuesday in Pozzallo on the southeast coast of Sicily. “We cannot face this emergency alone,” warned the mayor of Pozzallo, Luigi Ammatuna. “The only two refrigerated rooms in the cemetery are occupied by the bodies of migrants. Where will we put the 30 victims of this atrocious tragedy?” he told ANSA news agency.
He said the area’s reception centres were full, and that it would be impossible to take in the hundreds of migrants about to arrive. Three military ships carrying over 1,000 migrants each are also expected to arrive in ports in southern Italyearly today, the navy said. Coast guard vessels and cargo ships carrying hundreds of others are set to arrive in Sicily, bringing the number rescued over the weekend to almost 5,500.