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Italy Overwhelmed

The Aegean route is mostly closed, but the migrants keep coming, from Eritrea, Ethiopia and elsewhere. They cross the Mediterranean to Italy, a country struggling to deal with the influx. A political crisis is blooming, and the country’s institutions are straining to keep up.

The Italian Coast Guard has its hands full responding to the barrage of calls for rescue placed over satellite phones by distressed migrants at sea. Local municipalities have no housing for the migrants who try to keep moving north, and the police face the gruesome task of identifying the waterlogged bodies of those who die before they reach shore.

The European Union’s flailing response to the migrant crisis is driving political upheaval in Italy, where voters are taking a critical look at the country’s membership in the union. Anti-European parties like the Five Star Movement and the Northern League led the opposition to a package of measures endorsed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi that voters rejected in a referendum on Dec. 4, prompting Mr. Renzi to resign.

Still, some Italians refuse to give up trying to help the migrants, seeing the humanity in their plight. These videos explore the overwhelmed Italian institutions, and the individuals fighting for the migrants.


Many migrants reach Libya, the starting point for the sea journey to Europe, after fleeing war and famine in their own countries. Many arrive malnourished or injured, only to be herded aboard flimsy rafts and rickety boats by smugglers for the treacherous journey north. With luck, they will be rescued in international waters shortly after they embark. Those who are in the most desperate need of medical attention — suffering from gunshot wounds, perhaps, or pregnant — are taken to a small hospital on Lampedusa, the resort island that is the southernmost point of Italy. This hospital has essentially become the trauma ward for the Mediterranean.


Migrants who reach Italian shores are initially housed in camps, mostly in Sicily. But most want to reach countries farther north, so they leave the camps and head for Italy’s borders by bus or train. Municipal governments along the way are swamped with migrants and are unable to provide all of them with food or shelter, so the task falls to private Italian citizens. In Rome, Andrea Costa has organized an informal camp for migrants. “They deserve to meet Rome, to meet Roman people in the best way possible,” he says.


The bodies of migrants who die on the way to Italy usually provide few clues about their identities. But to properly return their remains to next of kin, someone must determine who they were. Forensic pathologists like Prof. Cristina Cattaneo often have no hard information to work with. “I think these dead people and their families, they deserve the same treatment as other victims of mass disasters have,” Professor Cattaneo said. “And they have not had it.”

Correction: December 22, 2016

An earlier version of this article misstated the date that Italian voters rejected a referendum, prompting the prime minister’s resignation. It was Dec. 4, not Dec. 12.

Source: NYT > World

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