Italian Red Cross assisting thousands of migrants arriving by boat

Publié: 11 avril 2014 15:44 CET

More than 4,000 migrants and asylum seekers have arrived by sea to Italy within the past 48-72 hours, and thousands more are expected in the coming weeks and months.

With the European spring having arrived, the seas are calmer and safer, and this normally leads to an increase in migration, which both authorities and aid agencies try to prepare for.

“The Italian Red Cross presently has 225 volunteers and staff engaged in the reception, not only in Sicily but across the country, as many refugees are transferred to other areas shortly after arrival,” says Tommaso Della Longa, spokesperson for Italian Red Cross. “We assist with health screening and see if anybody has special needs – be it pregnant woman, people with wounds or illnesses – children travelling alone. We provide relief and assistance, and we can offer psychosocial support and advice. Very often the refugees feel more comfortable at the arrival talking to us than to a uniformed person.”

Italy is a major gateway into Europe for migrants who cross the Mediterranean, often in overcrowded boats, arriving from Syria, Libya and Horn of Africa.

European issue

Since the two tragedies in October last year where first 366 Eritreans drowned close to the coast and later a 200 people, mostly from Syria died trying to cross the sea, the Italian coast guard and navy have been embarking on mission ‘Mare Nostrum’ (Safe Seas) to patrol the waters and prevent similar accidents. The routes migrant-boats take are well known, and thousands are now being rescued due to increased patrolling and assistance.

“It is absolutely an obligation to secure safe journeys and safe arrivals for people who escape war and conflicts,” says Francesco Rocca, the president of the Italian Red Cross and the vice-president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

“According to agreements signed by all European Union (EU) countries, people have the right to arrive safely and be received in an atmosphere where they feel safe.”

Rocca says that, although Italy is the gateway for tens of thousands of refugees, this is a EU issue rather than solely an Italian one. “Our borders are the borders of Europe in this context, and the migrants and asylum seekers are trying to get to Europe and specifically to Italy. So all of Europe needs to feel a joint responsibility  and develop a joint plan of action,” he says.