Italian Prim Minister Silvio Berlusconi stands accused of letting more than 50 refugees drown when their ship sank off the ItaIian coast last week. The right wing Berlusconi is Tony Blair's closest political ally in the European Union.
He and his far right coalition partners in the Italian government are pushing through harsh new anti-refugee and anti-migrant measures. The price was paid last week when the refugees, mostly from Africa, drowned after a nearby Italian navy vessel did little to help save people. The migrants' boat was initially taken in tow by the fishing vessel Elide. But the fishermen were concerned at the deteriorating condition of the migrant ship and contacted the navy, which sent a vessel.
The fishermen asked the navy to send a doctor in a helicopter to help the refugees, but the navy refused. The fishermen then asked the navy to take over towing the leaky vessel and help get the refugees off. 'It seemed the safest solution,' said the Elide's bosun, Francesco Giacalone. 'They said no. A quarter of an hour later the boat sank.' As the refugees were thrown into the water the fishing vessel crew did what they could to help, and saved nine people.
The vastly bigger navy ship did little, and when it finally did intervene managed to save just two people. The Italian daily L'Unita demanded to know if the navy's slow reaction reflected orders from higher up. 'Dinghies could have been thrown into the water from the navy ship,' said the paper. 'They were not. Since instinct and tradition at sea is to intervene always the question is inevitable, what orders does the Italian navy have?'