Fishermen on the Italian island of Lampedusa laid flowers at sea on Saturday in a moving homage to victims of a shipwreck tragedy, as survivors spoke of misery in a badly overcrowded refugee center.
Four trawlers went to the spot where a boat filled with up to 500 asylum-seekers sank on Thursday within sight of the coast of this remote and craggy outcrop in the heart of the Mediterranean.
A wreath was cast out to sea, echoing a gesture made by Pope Francis who came to the island in July to condemn a “globalization of indifference” towards the thousands who land here every year.
“To Those Who Died At Sea,” read a white ribbon on the bunch of yellow and orange flowers bobbing in the water where some 300 people—many of them Eritreans and Somalis—are feared to have died.
“Fishermen save lives,” said Salvatore Martello, head of the local fishing association in this community of just 6,000 people, who organized the ceremony after controversy over rescue delays.
“Real sailors leave no one in the water,” Martello said, as the sound of the sirens from the four trawlers blared across the rough seas that have hampered the operation to recover more bodies.
“The dead cannot be forgotten, they have to be commemorated because they are people who tried to come and work, to live a better life,” he said.
The fishermen then held a minute of silence.
Meanwhile survivors and other asylum-seekers who arrived in previous landings on the island spoke of unsanitary conditions in a small, 250-bed refugee centre now filled with over 1,000 people.
The center is often overrun on an island that has taken in most of the 30,000 migrants who have landed on Italian shores so far this year.
Many have been forced to sleep in the open.
Mohammed, a former English teacher fleeing the conflict in Syria, spoke to Agence France-Presse from behind a fence around the heavily guarded center and said: “All people here just want to go outside.” AFP