Migrant crisis: a demonstration of humanity that the EU lacks

Palermo’s mayor vents his anger at the EU after witnessing so much suffering

Migrants wait to get off the Irish Navy vessel LÉ Niamh in the Sicilian harbour of Palermo on August 6th. Photograph: Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters/ TPX

Migrants wait to get off the Irish Navy vessel LÉ Niamh in the Sicilian harbour of Palermo on August 6th. Photograph: Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters/ TPX


“I love Irish people, and from today I will love them even more because they have given a demonstration of exactly the sort of humanity which the EU is lacking.”

The mayor of Palermo, onetime mafia fighter Leoluca Orlando, has no doubts. The European Union, if it really observed how Sicily and Sicilians take in hundreds of boat people every day, “should feel ashamed”.

“You know,” Orlando continues, “we correctly recall the Holocaust, the Nazi mass murder of Jews . . . but this, too, is a genocide. And I think that one day, historians will look at this and want to charge the European Union with genocide.

“In my opinion, we have to abolish residence permits all over Europe, we have to abolish a Fortress Europe mentality.

“To some extent, the migrant problem is like the Greek problem in the European Union. I mean, I don’t know if everything that Tspiras says and does in Greece is right. But I sure as hell, know that the EU is wrong.”

The mayor reflects ruefully on the fact that, two of the EU’s founder members, Italy and France, recently got into a bitter diplomatic incident about the fate of 41 migrants who had opted to camp out on the seaside rocks of Ventimiglia, right on the border, as they attempted to force a passage into France.

“Now we have the Calais problem,” he says. “So prime minister David Cameron has discovered that there is a migrant problem, has he? We can now say that Africa begins at Dover, can we?”

In truth, however, Orlando acknowledges that Sicily seems destined to continue struggling with its migrant problem.

Migrant tragedy


By the end of May, 55,000 boat people had attempted the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean to Italy – 13,000 more than last year. More than 2,000 of them lost their lives.

As the long, hot Mediterranean summer continues, more of these people, some of them political refugees but many of them economic migrants, will be tempted to make the most of the warm weather and calm seas to attempt the crossing.

No doubt, like the victims of this week’s sinking, they will find that there are first-class and second-class tickets, even on these rickety coffin ships.

Italian investigators have discovered that it you pay a bit more, you get to travel up on deck. If you travel second class, you are shut in down below in the hold, with little or no chance of getting off the boat should something go wrong.

This was what happened last April, again just off the Libyan coast, when nearly 800 people lost their lives as their totally overcrowded vessel capsized.

Vessel arrival


One aspect of this week’s Irish operation is that when the boat finally landed in Palermo, five of the rescued, all north Africans, were arrested on suspicion of human trafficking.

People literally limped off the LÉ Niamh on to the Palermo harbourside, many of them only wearing shorts, many barefoot, others bandaged, several of them traumatised and some of them being carried.

You could only wonder at the desperation that prompted their “voyage of hope” in what, yet again, turned out to be a living hell.