Italy’s Mission to Save and Welcome Migrants
Last October, Italy launched a mission in which some of their ships travel the Mediterranean Sea, along the coasts of North African countries. The aim of this mission is for the crews aboard each ship to find and help people trying to make their own way to Italy, desperately fleeing their war-torn and perilous homelands in search of safety.
The mission was launched after a boat carrying 366 people – men, women and children – capsized a mile off the Sicilian coast. The Italian government wanted to be able to do something so that a tragedy like this and other shipwrecks, which they felt could be avoidable, wouldn’t happen again, and so they came up with a plan.
They called the operation Mare Nostrum, which is Latin for “Our Sea”, and involves five vessels that spot people trying to make the crossing and either help them across or pluck them from the sea, transporting them to the relative safety of Italy.
Since Mare Nostrum began seven months ago, almost 45,000 people from many different countries have been rescued and escorted over. This is the same number of people who manage to complete – or be intercepted during – the dangerous journey during the whole of the previous 12 months before the mission was launched.
About 65% of people arriving on Italian shores quickly move on to other countries in the EU, with asylum requests to these countries rising by more than 30% last year – Germany received more than any other country in the world with 110,000.
Of course, the influx of so many has prompted an anti-immigration backlash from many EU countries, which Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti doesn’t believe is the way these countries should be thinking. “It is absurd that the EU does not play an important role in Mare Nostrum,” she exclaimed. “Italy’s borders are Europe’s borders.”
One of the five ships in Mare Nostrum’s fleet is the 133-metre-long (436-foot) San Giorgio, led by Captain Aldo Dolfini, which has rescued as many as 1,200 people in just one afternoon. The captain even commissioned a sign that says, “Welcome, you are safe,” in English and French, as well as Italian. “This job gets under your skin,” Captain Dolfini said. “I like to think that it is empathy that motivates everyone on the ship.”
Italy may be going to against the grain of much of Europe, who seem to be doing what they can to keep immigrants from wanting to enter their countries, but it is wonderful that the Italian government is putting the lives of people before such politics.