Migrants Fleeing Violence Dock At Sicilian Port Of Augusta

Apr 22, 2015
Originally published on April 24, 2015 6:27 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We begin this hour on the coasts of Italy and Spain. European leaders are grappling with the rising death toll of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. They'll meet tomorrow in Brussels for an emergency summit. In a moment, we'll hear from a woman who survived the dangerous crossing between Africa and Europe. But first, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli begins our coverage from a Sicilian port where another boat of rescued migrants arrived today.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: A helicopter flew over the Port of Augusta where a large Coast Guard vessel had docked this morning. The ship was carrying 446 people rescued from a smuggler's boat off the southeastern Italian mainland.

FLAVIO DI GIACOMO: There are Syrians. There are Egyptians, Somali, Eritreans - maybe some Palestine. They are coming from Egypt.

POGGIOLI: On one boat or more?

DI GIACOMO: On one boat - one fishing boat.

POGGIOLI: Flavio Di Giacomo is the spokesman for the International Organization for Migration. He says 59 of these migrants are children, including newborns. We see kids playing and laughing with their parents, overjoyed they've landed safely in Europe.

DI GIACOMO: The Syrians are the high-level, medium-level class, so we're talking about engineers, professor, doctors are coming with their families.

POGGIOLI: The migrants lineup for a quick medical exam. Then they're escorted to another area where the identification process takes place. This is when reporters shout out questions asking where they're from.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Syria.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Syria. Syria.

WOMAN: Syria.

MAN: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Tell us about your trip.

MAN: Egypt.

POGGIOLI: But an angry policeman intervenes.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICEMAN: No television. Go. (Foreign language spoken).

POGGIOLI: As police and aid workers try to shelter the migrants from the prying media, Di Giacomo tells us this is only one of several migrant landings today. Another rescue ship arrived close to Naples with 500 migrants coming from Libya.

DI GIACOMO: So the total of arrivals today so far should be about 1,000.

POGGIOLI: Over the weekend, hundreds of migrants drowned when their vessel capsized. Di Giacomo is among those who debriefed the survivors of that disaster. They're in a holding center, and Di Giacomo says they're still in a state of shock over the way smugglers treated them in Libya.

DI GIACOMO: They told me that they were over 1,000 of people on the beach waiting to be embarked, and the smugglers were pulling and pushing inside the people in the deck in the hold - in the lower hold where the engine is.

POGGIOLI: One of the reasons for the spike in the number of migrants coming from Libya, says di Giacomo, is the spiraling violence and harassment of sub-Saharan Africans in the lawless country. Many who had hoped to stay in Libya to work are now fleeing to Europe.

DI GIACOMO: According to the testimonies of the migrants, they can be beaten, they can be killed without any specific reason. The women are raped many times. So all the people - even the people I've been talking yesterday - they were shocked because of the shipwreck, but they were telling me, oh, my God, Libya - they didn't expect so much violence in Libya.

POGGIOLI: Italy has bored the brunt of the migrant surge. Addressing the Italian Parliament today, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called on Europe to devise a long-term strategy including wider sea patrols, the setting up of United Nations refugee offices in countries bordering Libya and intervening against human trafficking rings. He pointed out that Italy saved some 200,000 migrant lives since the start of 2014. But, Renzi added, Italy's noble, generous reaction alone is not enough. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Augusta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.