LAMPEDUSA, Italy - The survivors of a shipwreck off Sicily last week live in terrible conditions and face criminal prosecution, a delegation of lawmakers and officials said yesterday as they called for policy changes at home and in the European Union.
Rough seas again blocked efforts to recover the bodies trapped inside the boat that sank on Thursday, killing an estimated 300 Eritrean and Somali men, women and children who were seeking a better life in Europe.
Rescue teams expect to find more than 100 others in and around the wreck, submerged in 47 meters of water less than a kilometer from the shore of this southern island.
The plight of the 155 survivors highlights the shortcomings of the centers that house newly-arrived migrants and the laws aimed at keeping them away.
"We have the duty to tell the Italian government and the EU that their structures and policies are not only inadequate, but they're criminal," said Rosario Crocetta, Sicily's regional governor, after visiting Lampedusa's immigration center with the mayor and a group of lawmakers.
The center, which is equipped to house 250 people, is now packed with more than 1,000.
Reporters and TV cameras are kept out, but clearly seen through the front gate were families with children camping under a stand of shade trees, with foam mattresses for beds and clothing drying on lines stretched between the trunks.
"It's indecent," said Tommaso Curro, a lower house deputy for the 5-Star Movement.
"The overcrowding is inhuman," said Gea Planeta Schiro, with the Civic Choice party. "More than 100 women are using one bathroom, and they have no soap to wash their clothes."
The lawmakers said they spoke to a group of survivors and were told that each migrant paid thousands of dollars to smugglers, first to cross the Sahara desert and then to buy passage across the Mediterranean.
The survivors of Thursday's shipwreck could be prosecuted, fined 5,000 euros and sent home if they are not given political asylum, Agrigento prosecutor Ignazio Fonzo told Reuters.
"There have been some convictions in the past, and of course they can't pay the fine. They don't have any money," he said.
The disaster has renewed pressure from Italy for more help from the EU to combat the decades-old migrant crisis in the Mediterranean.
Prime Minister Enrico Letta's center-left Democratic Party called for an urgent meeting of the European Council to agree on setting up special "humanitarian corridors" to provide protection for migrant boats.
Yesterday French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called for an EU meeting over the death of migrants off Sicily. "It's a terrible tragedy. It is important that European policymakers meet soon to discuss this together," he told reporters during a visit to the French city of Metz.
A memorial ceremony was scheduled for later yesterday in the airport hangar, where 111 coffins lie in rows on the floor. Most of the caskets are brown, but the four children lie in white ones, with teddy bears and flowers on top.
Yesterday morning a warm southerly wind whipped spray over the bows of 10 fishing boats that took a wreath into the choppy waters where the tragedy took place.
"Lampedusans are sensitive people," fisherman Vincenzo Partinico, 49, told Reuters. "We made this gesture because we are suffering for those who died, because we are all human beings."