Italy has held a day of national mourning in memory of those who died in the 3 October disaster off Lampedusa. The victims – mostly from Eritrea, Somalia and Syria – were given Italian citizenship posthumously and are now – it was announced yesterday – to be honoured at a state funeral. The desire of the Italian government to salve its conscience following the fire and shipwreck that cost an estimated 250 lives is understandable. But such measures are grotesque and will only reinforce the idea, among would-be refugees and their advocates, that a dead migrant is preferable – at least in the eyes of the receiving country – to a live one. Will the Italian authorities, I wonder, be so keen to grant the survivors citizenship? Or even allow them into the country?
The disaster off Lampedusa was shocking in its scale and in the graphic accounts given by survivors and their rescuers and broadcast around the world. But these are the only ways in which it was unique. Would-be migrants to Europe perish regularly in the waters off north Africa, as many as 20,000 so far this year. Some, perhaps many, of their boats have actually been forced away from the Italian coast by border officials and forced to remain in international waters. To argue since last week, as many well-meaning people have, that the European Union needs to be more generous to migrants completely ignores the reality that public opinion, not just in Italy, but in many receiving countries, is overwhelmingly hostile to any increase in the number of migrants. Not only that, but a more liberal policy will result in many more new arrivals who are really quite difficult to integrate.
Yes, the EU should increase the amount of money it allocates for resettlement; yes, it should get a proper dispersal policy, so that Italy and others on the front line are not left to bear the burden alone, and yes, the criteria for settlement should be standardised. But perhaps those who have argued for a more generous policy in the past couple of weeks should be given the task of administering it, arguing the political toss with the voters and raising the money. Organising a state funeral is a simple undertaking, by comparison.