LAMPEDUSA, Italy (Reuters) – The survivors of a shipwreck off Sicily two days ago live in terrible conditions and face criminal prosecution, a delegation of lawmakers and officials said on Saturday as they called for policy changes at home and in the European Union.
Rough seas again blocked efforts to recover the bodies trapped inside a boat that sank on Thursday, killing an estimated 300 Eritrean and Somali men, women and children who were seeking a better life in Europe.
Rescue teams expect to find more than 100 others in and around the wreck, submerged in 47 metres of water less than a kilometre (0.6 miles) from the shore of the southern island of Lampedusa.
Now the plight of the 155 survivors of one of the worst disasters in Europe’s immigration crisis is putting a spotlight on the shortcomings of the centres that house newly-arrived migrants, and on the laws that are aimed at keeping them away.
“We have the duty to tell the Italian government and the EU that their structures and policies are not only inadequate, but they’re criminal,” said Rosario Crocetta, Sicily’s regional governor, after visiting Lampedusa’s immigration centre with the mayor and a group of lawmakers.
The centre, which is equipped to house 250 people, is now packed with more than 1,000.
Reporters and TV cameras are kept out, but clearly seen through the front gate were families with children camping under a stand of shade trees, with foam mattresses for beds and clothing drying on lines stretched between the trunks.
“It’s indecent,” said Tommaso Curro, a lower house deputy for the 5-Star Movement.
“The overcrowding is inhuman,” said Gea Planeta Schiro, with the Civic Choice party. “More than 100 woman are using one bathroom, and they have no soap to wash their clothes.”
The lawmakers said they spoke to a group of the survivors of Thursday’s shipwreck, and were told that each migrant paid thousands of dollars to smugglers first to cross the Sahara desert, and then to buy passage across the Mediterranean.
Lampedusa, a tiny fishing and tourist island that is only about 70 miles from Tunisia and 170 miles from Libya, has borne the brunt of a crisis which over the years has seen tens of thousands of migrants arrive in rickety and unsafe vessels.