Earlier this week, more than a hundred migrant shipwreck survivors staged a protest after they were barred from attending a memorial to honor victims killed when their ship sank off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa on October 3. Survivors, mostly from Somali and Eritrea, railed against the Italian government for falling short of its promise to hold a full state funeral and for holding the memorial away from the site of the accident, where the survivors are being held.
An interior ministry official prevented survivors from boarding a ferry to Sicily to attend the memorial service. That was when survivors broke through the gate of the holding center where they have been since the shipwreck and sat down in the road in front of Lampedusa’s town hall. A big screen was erected in the holding center to broadcast the memorial that was held 200 kilometers (or 125 miles) away.
Many of the survivors had family members who perished when their boat caught on fire and capsized. One migrant told SkyTG24, “One of us lost three kids and his wife. We asked to go [to the ceremony] and we want to go legally, but they wouldn’t let us.”
Pope Francis I called the shipwreck, which claimed the lives of at least 366 migrants, “shameful,” as this tragedy is far from an isolated incident. Eight days later, another shipwreck near Lampedusa killed at least 35 people. In July, the Pope made Lampedusa the site of his first official trip outside of Rome as a way to commemorate migrant deaths. According to Migreurop, a non-governmental organization, there have been at least 20,000 migrant deaths off the coast of Lampedusa.
The majority of the migrants from the shipwrecks are of Somali and Eritrean-origin. According to the United Nation, at least 3,000 Eritreans try to flee their country every month. Somalis try to flee to escape al-Shabab Islamic militants.
Since the tragedy, the Italian Defense Minister Mario Mauro announced a series of measures that could help reduce future tragedies. He called to triple its naval presence in the sea– currently, the Italian Navy has three ships, four helicopters, and two surveillance aircraft. Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said that the patrols would be used to rescue migrants instead of “telling them to stay where they are.” And, most likely starting in January 2014, Italy will double its ability to receive migrants from 8,000 to 16,000.
The United States, which also has a problem with rising migrant deaths, has also increased law enforcement presence at the border, not to provide humanitarian aid, but to keep migrants out at all costs. Mexican migrants don’t encounter drownings, but dehydration, as they find new ways to get around checkpoints or other border surveillance tactics. Border agents have allegedly brutalized and even killed migrants as they come across the border– causing the deaths of at least 19 people almost exclusively along the U.S.-Mexico border since 2010. The U.S. spends more than $17 billion annually on border security, dispatching 21,394 border patrol agents and drones.
The Government Accountability Office found that the number of border deaths almost doubled between 1999 to 2005. A Center for American Progress report found that after the United States stepped up its border security infrastructure between 2000 to 2010, thousands of people have died attempting to cross the border. The same report states, “virtually all border crossers now require a smuggler”– a fact that oftentimes puts vulnerable migrant border crossers into near-death situations. Even so, border crossers are willing to risk their lives because most people have friends or relatives in the United States or had a job.