Italy deploys drones, warships after refugee tragedies
Italy said it was deploying drones and warships in a large-scale high seas patrol mission to scare people smugglers amid a growing influx of asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean.
Rome: Italy said it was deploying drones and warships in a large-scale high seas patrol mission to scare people smugglers amid a growing influx of asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean.
"We have given the go-ahead to Operation Mare Nostrum (Our Sea)," Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said yesterday after a government meeting, following two refugee shipwreck disasters this month.
Defence Minister Mario Mauro said there would now be five warships on Italy`s southern maritime border, including one equipped with an amphibious transport dock to take in refugees.
There are currently three navy vessels on patrol, along with six coast guard patrol boats and six border guard patrol boats, as well as helicopters and planes from each of the three agencies.
More helicopters and planes will now be sent to the vast area, equipped with night-vision and infrared technology to help spot refugee boats.
Mauro said the operation was intended to "help those in trouble at sea and make things difficult for the mother ships that put people`s lives at risk by sending them out on rickety boats".
Larger boats sometimes make most of the journey and then send out smaller ones laden with asylum seekers once they are closer to Italian shores as part of a lucrative people-smuggling network.
"This will have a very significant deterrent effect for those who think they can traffic in human beings with impunity," the interior minister said.
The Defence Minister said that Italy would also use "remote piloting systems to increase the surveillance as much as possible" - a reference to Predator drones, according to Italian media reports.
Italian officials fended off accusations from migration rights advocates that the operation reflected a "Fortress Europe" mentality.
The European Commission has urged European states to provide ships, planes and funds for the EU`s Frontex border agency patrols after more than 360 people drowned off the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Italy`s worst-ever refugee tragedy happened in the early hours of October 3 when a boat laden with Eritrean and Somali asylum-seekers caught fire, capsized and sank within sight of the coast.
Dozens of burials in anonymous vaults began yesterday in a small cemetery of Piano Gatta near the city of Agrigento in Sicily, even though Prime Minister Enrico Letta had promised to hold a state funeral for the victims.