Migrant tragedy prompts harsher punishment for human traffickers

Rome –

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni unveiled her right-wing government’s plan to crack down on smugglers after she held a cabinet meeting on Thursday near the beach in the southern city where a wooden boat full of migrants capsized 11 days ago. Due to which scores were killed and many went missing. ,

By holding the meeting in Catro, Calabria, rather than the capital Rome, Meloni said she was emphasizing her resolve to “combat the slavery of the third millennium”.

She announced that her cabinet had approved a decree establishing a new crime – people-trafficking resulting in the death or serious injury of migrants – punishable by up to 30 years in prison, for those facilitating illegal immigration. An exceptionally harsh punishment for crimes.

Many of those killed and survivors of the February 26 tragedy had fled Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Syria, hoping to join family members in Italy and other Western European countries.

The 72nd body was recovered from the wreckage of the ship earlier this week. The overcrowded boat ran aground on a sandbank just off the Staccato di Cutro beach, started taking on water and broke apart.

Eighty people survived, many of them waddling onto the beach after swimming through the wreckage. Dozens are still believed to be missing as survivors say the boat left Turkey carrying about 180 passengers.

“Our job is to find solutions to the problem, and today, as I said, the best way to honor those victims is to do what we can so that this tragedy doesn’t happen again,” Meloni said.

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The cabinet decree must be converted into law by parliament, where Meloni’s right-wing coalition has a substantial majority.

Meloni said the decree also gives Italy the right to pursue traffickers, even if the crimes are committed “outside our national borders”.

Justice Minister Carlo Nordio told reporters that Italy would reaffirm its jurisdiction in cases where a fatal shipwreck, or other loss of life or injury to migrants, occurs in “waters not under one’s (territorial) control”. . This will be applicable when the ship of smugglers is going to Italy.

Nordio said the same decree would be issued against those who finance the operations behind the smuggling.

At the cabinet meeting, Meloni’s government also approved the creation of a system for “preferential lanes” for foreigners trained abroad in programs recognized by Italy to obtain jobs as expatriates.

Meloni said that his government intended to “establish quotas for legal entry by migrants from countries that work with Italy to crack down on smugglers and educate their citizens on the risks of boarding unscrupulous smugglers’ vessels”. Are”.

Opposition leaders and humanitarian groups have condemned the Italian authorities’ decision to rescue the wooden ship before pre-dawn wreckage in rough seas about 40 nautical miles (72 kilometers) off the coast of Calabria by Frontex patrol aircraft. Coast Guard rescue boats should not be dispatched quickly after sighting. ,

Frontex is the border and coastal security agency of the European Union.

Under pressure from reporters, Meloni on Thursday stuck to his interior minister’s account to lawmakers earlier this week that Frontex – in his communication to Italian authorities as late as February 25 – had given no indication of a crisis.

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“We’re talking about a boat that lasted three days and … never had a problem,” said the premier. “It surfaced 40 meters (yards) off the Italian coast. There was not and could be no sign of a possible shipwreck”, he protested.

Meloni accused the smugglers of waiting for an opportune moment to offload the passengers and trick the Italian authorities. Instead, the boat hit a sandbank.

Prosecutors in Calabria are investigating whether Italy should have launched a rescue operation after the aerial sighting by Frontex.

Meanwhile, hundreds more migrants have taken shelter on the southern island of Lampedusa in recent days.

Many arrived without needing rescue. Italy’s coast guard and border police boats rescued dozens of other boats in the central Mediterranean this week. Among them were 45 migrants, including five newborns, who were rescued on Wednesday, and 38 rescued by the coast guard after their boat capsized in Malta’s rescue zone.

In another Italian coast guard operation, 20 migrants were rescued after their boat ran into trouble after leaving Sfax, Tunisia, and the body of a woman was recovered, Italian state television said.

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 1,300 migrants had arrived in Lampedusa by sea in the past few days, and authorities were sending a large boat from Sicily to move some of them from the island’s overcrowded temporary housing for migrants .

Dozens of townspeople turned out in support of the migrants on Thursday in Katro, a town of 8,000, which closed schools and cordoned off the area as part of security for a cabinet meeting. Some fishermen from the town had dived into the sea to rescue the survivors from the disaster and retrieve the dead.

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So far, the body of a migrant from Afghanistan has been buried in Calabria, a Tunisian victim was sent to Tunisia, a victim from Afghanistan was taken to Germany, while four bodies were flown back to Pakistan. On Wednesday, seven bodies were taken to a Muslim cemetery in Bologna, while others were being prepared for shipment to Germany and Afghanistan.

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