On Italy’s Coast, Empathy Mixes With Frustration After Migrant Tragedy

Crotone is a faded industrial city. Downtown squares are filled with young people during working hours. Used shirts and trousers sell for 3 euros, or about $3, at market stalls. The outskirts are lined with homes for sale.

Residents seem seared by the experience of having so many dead wash up on their shore.

“These are human beings,” said Antonio Sghirrapi, 53, owner of a food stand in the city’s market. “We have seen them coming for decades, and they are people like us, they should be saved at sea.”

Advocates for migrant rights and members of Italy’s progressive opposition parties agree. They argue that policy changes introduced in 2019 by the populist government that was in power at the time limited coast guard vessels to seeking and rescuing migrants only in cases of “immediate” danger.

In the Cutro case, an aircraft with the European border agency, Frontex, sighted the rickety migrant boat, called Summer Love, 40 miles from the Italian coast, sailing without any “signs of distress.” There was one person visible on the deck but “significant” indications that many more people were under the deck, the agency said.

The Italian authorities decided not to deploy coast guard vessels, which over the years have saved hundreds of thousands of lives in the Mediterranean. Instead, they sent poorer-equipped law enforcement boats, which had to return to port because of rough seas.

The migrant boat, it turned out, was carrying in the hull at least 180 people who had departed from Cesme, a small port west of Izmir, Turkey, four days earlier. It arrived at Cutro beach in the dark one February morning amid six-foot waves. Hitting the low, sandy bottom, the decrepit boat broke apart about 100 yards from the shore. Despite being so close to land, many were unable to reach safety through the treacherous, cold waters.

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