Italian government officials and the survivors of Thursday’s shipwreck off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa have held a mourning ceremony for the African migrants who lost their lives in the tragic incident.
A total of 111 coffins were lined up in rows inside an airport hanger on Saturday each of which was numbered and had a single white rose for adult victims and teddy bears for younger ones. The ceremony began after fishermen threw a bouquet of yellow flowers and honked their foghorns near the exact place where the tragedy took place. "To come to rescue is a duty. Not to come to rescue is a crime," said Laura Boldrini, the speaker of the Italian parliament. She was previously the UN Refugee Agency spokeswoman in Italy. More than 300 men, women and children either died or got lost when their boat sank. Every year tens of thousands of people try to reach Europe in overcrowded, rickety boats, traveling in inhumane conditions. In the last decade, more than 6,000 migrants have died in the Sicilian Channel. Even those who made it to Italy still remember their crossing with anguish. “The crossing from Egypt to Italy cost me 3000 euros. I was 16. It is easy to find smugglers if you have money. I first flew to Libya where they kept me for two days, making me work like a slave. Then when it was time to leave by boat, they took my passport, my money and my clothes and left me with just a T- shirt and trousers,” a migrant worker from Egypt told Press TV. “They boarded me with some 350 other migrants. I was terrified. There was not even room left to move my arms. After three days, the boat’s engine stopped working and there was not any water or food left. Only after four days in open sea, the Italian coast guards rescued us,” he added. Italy's most southern ports have become the most accessible gateways to Europe for migrants from Africa and the Middle East who flee poverty and conflicts. In 2011, the island of Lampedusa alone received some 50,000 migrants during the uprisings in Tunisia and Libya. Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said that he hopes the European Union realizes that dealing with migration and human trafficking is the responsibility of not only Italy but also all European countries. Alfano added that Italy cannot continue to take on the increasing burden of major waves of migrants into Europe who land on the Island of Lampedusa. Friday was declared a national day of mourning by the Italian government to mark the biggest migrant disaster in Italy's history. On Saturday, rescue operations for recovering more bodies were called off for another 24 hours because of bad weather. Lampedusa is located between Sicily Island and the coasts of Tunisia and Libya. Over the past years, tens of thousands of migrants have arrived in unsafe and overcrowded vessels in search of a better life.