In what is one of the worst immigrant tragedies in the Mediterranean in recent years, a boat full of immigrants sank off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, causing over 300 victims at the last count.
The response to the accident is what divides Italy and public opinion worldwide. While the Minister for Integration, Congolese Kyenge Cecile, has used this tragic opportunity to reiterate her call for the abolition of the crime of illegal entry and illegal residence, the Northern League has requested her resignation and wants the boats to be turned back because they are full of illegal immigrants.
Indeed, the best way to prevent tragedies such as this is to discourage the crossings by deterring the would-be migrants, and the best way to achieve that is to turn the boats back.
Italy's immigration law requires repatriation of illegal immigrants and has allegedly sometimes led to the sequester of fishing boats that have saved the lives of migrants. There have been accusations that, in the latest disaster, nearby local fishing boats had seen that the vessel was in trouble but had not come to its rescue.
Italy has pressed the European Union for more help to fight the crisis, saying that “Lampedusa has to be considered the frontier of Europe, not the frontier of Italy.” The EU's Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroemn called on EU countries to do more to take in refugees, which she said would help reduce the number of perilous Mediterranean crossings.
There is talk of having EU boats patrol the area. The point is: should they help immigrants to get to Lampedusa or to go back?
Read previous posts on Lampedusa to get a background of the situation:
Lampedusa, Italy. Part I: What Happened in 2011
Pope's First Official Visit Is to Lampedusa, Tiny Sicilian Island Flooded by African Migrants
An Island in Revolt: A Window into Europe’s Future
Photo lampedusa by Noborder Network (Creative Commons CC BY 2.0).