ROME - The deaths of 30 boat migrants sparked anger and frustration in Italy on Monday, as critics accused the government of failing to deal with an immigration crisis which has seen over 5,000 people rescued in the last 24 hours.
Rescuers had found the bodies stuffed into the hold of a fishing boat from North Africa when they boarded the vessel to help the most vulnerable of almost 600 migrants in the vessel. A navy doctor said the migrants had "likely suffocated" in the tiny space, and "advised against removing the bodies" as it was not yet clear whether there were poisonous gases in the hold which might affect others.
"Another 30 dead in a boat. Another 30 deaths on the consciences of those who defend Mare Lorum," said Matteo Salvini, head of the anti-immigration Northern League party, in an ironic reference to the country's "Mare Nostrum" ("Our Sea") operation to rescue boat immigrants. The League has warned Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's government that plucking asylum seekers and immigrants to safety from their rickety boats only encourages more people to set out across the Mediterranean for Europe.
"Renzi and Alfano's shirts are soaked in blood. Stop the departures, help them in their own countries, immediately!" he said in that a post on Facebook, pointing the finger not only at the centre-left leader but also at Angelino Alfano, Italy's interior minister. Maurizio Gasparri, the Senate leader of Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, blasted Renzi's "demented" navy operation and the "thousands of landings, deaths, tragedy, chaos. We cannot go on like this."
In a statement, the navy said that some of the 30 migrants may have drowned rather than suffocated, though it would not confirm whether there was water in the hold or how much.