Last Thursday, a boat carrying hundreds of asylum seekers from north Africa caught fire just offshore of Lampedusa island, Italy. Passengers moved to one side of the boat to escape the flames which caused the boat to capcize, forcing the passengers into the water. The tragedy that unfolded is a confirmed 309 deaths of people mostly from Eritrea and Somalia, including children.
Lampedusa is a known port of entry for asylum seekers fleeing north Africa to Europe with over 8,500 arrivals since the start of the year.
The Italian government has declared a national day of mourning for those who drowned and will hold state funerals for the victims of this tragedy. The Italian Prime Minster and European Commission president visited the dead in Lampedusa to pay their respects.
It is hard to fathom such a response from the Australian government towards those who have died at sea on dangerous boat voyages to Australia. BOb’s Dr Claudia Tazreiter has commented on the Lampedusa boat tragedy for ABC News, The Drum (October 10, 2013) comparing the response to deaths at sea between Italy and Australia. In her article ‘Why should we care about lives lost at sea?’ Tazreiter considers how Australia could learn from European responses of dignity and respect to these recent border deaths.