Italy: Immigrant disaster survivors protest exclusion from funeral

October 22, 2013

“More than 100 survivors of a shipwreck in which hundreds of African immigrants died burst through the gates of a holding center on the Italian island of Lampedusa on Monday in a protest against the refusal of authorities to allow them to attend a funeral ceremony for the victims,” Reuters reported on October 21.

At least 366 people, mainly Eritrean, died in the October 3 disaster. The survivors tried to catch a ferry to the Sicilian city of Agrigento, where an official ceremony was held.

When an interior ministry official denied them permission to board the ferry, Reuters said, “the protesters sat down in front of the tiny island's town hall, blocking a main road”.

One migrant, who would not give their name, told SkyTG34: “One of us lost three kids and his wife. We asked to go and we want to go legally, but they wouldn't let us.

“We only want to bury those we lost at sea.”

The Coast Guard said the death toll could be more than 400 with many bodies still unrecovered.

Reuters said Lampedusa's Mayor Giusi Nicolini refused to attend the ceremony after criticising the decision to hold it so far from the island. The mayor of Agrigento, Marco Zambuto, called it a "farce".

“This port has never seen an immigrant boat arrival,” Zambuto told RAI state TV. “The presence of a representative of the Eritrean government is a further blow to those who died.”

Eritreans who reach Italy normally seek political asylum from a government that the United Nations has accused of torture and summary executions. Reuters said the regime is thought to hold up to 10,000 political prisoners.

A banner held at the ceremony by Eritrean nationals living in Italy read: “The presence of the Eritrean regime offends the dead and puts in danger the living.”

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