Catania (Italy): Italy threatened to send asylum-seekers across Europe today without more help to prevent arrivals as a warship bearing the 17 victims and 206 survivors of the latest migrant boat shipwreck headed for Sicily.
Ten hearses and medical personnel could be seen waiting in the port of Catania where the frigate was expected later today, as officials struggled to find room in badly overcrowded immigrant centres in the region.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano urged more assistance from Europe for border patrols, threatening that otherwise Italy would defy EU asylum rules and allow migrants to travel on to other countries in Europe.
"We`ll just let them go," he said, although the Dublin Convention states that migrants must remain in the country in which they arrive and make their asylum application until their status as refugees is approved.
Alfano also said the EU should intervene in Libya to stop the migrants from leaving in the first place and called for the EU`s Frontex border agency to be moved from Poland to Italy to improve coordination.
The ministry reported 36,000 migrants landing so far in 2014, many from Eritrea, Somalia and Syria, compared to 42,925 for all of 2013, 13,267 in 2012 and 63,000 in 2011 at the height of the Arab Spring revolts.
"Europe is leaving us on our own," Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who has promised to make immigration a top priority during Italy`s EU presidency this year, said on ReteQuattro television after yesterday`s disaster.
"It can`t save governments and banks and then let mothers and children die," the prime minister said.
The Italian navy today said a rescue operation involving warships, coast guard and border patrol vessels as well as merchant ships had been completed.
The UN refugee agency said that 12 of the victims were women, three were children and two were men.
It estimated 170 people have died at sea trying to reach Europe this year off Greece, Italy and Libya as well as in international waters.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said search and rescue operations should be "further strengthened" and asked for the international community to find legal alternatives like resettlement to stop refugees from making dangerous journeys.