By Sabina Castelfranco
Rome 20 August 2009
Italian authorities have rescued five Eritreans adrift near a southern Italian island.
It is the latest immigration tragedy in the waters between Africa and the remote southern Italian island of Lampedusa. The Italian authorities received a call from the Maltese that there were immigrants attempting to reach shore on a rubber dinghy.
Commander Francesco Maugeri heads the Finance Police unit in Lampedusa and was responsible for Thursday morning’s rescue operation.
He said there were five people on board the dinghy, from Eritrea, four men and one woman, and it was immediately clear that their state of health was not good.
The commander said they were immediately taken on land for medical checks.
One humanitarian worker said the rescued woman looked like a ghost, her body reduced to a skeleton and an empty look in the her eyes.
The Eritreans have been taken to the immigration center in Lampedusa.
According to unconfirmed reports of their first statements, they said they were at sea for more than 20 days. They also said they were 80 when they left the coast of Libya at the end of July. The other 75 are believed to have died during the crossing.
The spokeswoman of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Italy, Laura Boldrini, said that it is truly alarming that these people have been at sea in the Mediterranean for so many days without being rescued.
Boldrini said that Eritreans who arrive in Italy via sea are asylum-seekers, people who are in danger and are seeking protection.