A court in Catania, Italy, has sentenced 23-year-old Haj Hammouda Radouan to life in prison for manning an illegal migrant ship that capsized in the Mediterranean, killing an estimated 200 people. It is the first such sentence in Italy’s history, a precedent arriving just as the nation prepares for the summer rise in African migrants attempting to reach European shores.
Radouan, a Tunisian national, was manning a ship carrying more than 400 people from Libya to Italy in May 2014 when its engine began to break down. Out of panic, The Telegraph notes, the migrants began huddling together on one side of the ship, their collective weight flipping the ship over. Italian rescuers saved 206 people and found 17 bodies, leading them to believe around 200 lives were lost whose remains were never found.
Hamid Bouchab, also 23, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for working as Radouan’s assistant on the ship. Italy’s La Stampa reports that Radouan will be informed of his sentence shortly, but has not yet, as he was recently assigned a new attorney.
The court expressed its hope that the life sentence would deter other smugglers who may believe Italian courts do not have any power to rule over events that occur in the Mediterranean, far from Italian land. “It is a decision of great importance that rewards the determination of the office of the prosecutor to punish those who deliberately put in danger the lives of migrants,” the Sicilian court wrote of the unprecedented decision, which enforces “the existence of the Italian jurisdiction even to the facts of a shipwreck and murder committed on the high seas, in international waters.”
“It’s a very significant sentence that shows our determination to punish people who deliberately put migrants’ lives at risk,” The Telegraph quotes Giovanni Salvi, the prosecutor who pursued the case, as stating.
In light of the surge of illegal migrants attempting to reach the shores of Europe to escape the chaos of a Libya controlled by two rival governments and the Islamic State, European nations are attempting to receive UN approval to use military force to target smugglers and their ships. Without targeting the ships, supporters claim, smugglers may reuse them after successful trips to Europe, fueling the market for the service of reaching Europe.
The Telegraph reports that the number of asylum-seekers who have died on the way to Europe has multiplied by 30 in the past year, with 1,800 migrants believed to have died between January and May.
While Europe discusses how best to handle the smugglers who fuel human trafficking, the European Union is attempting to establish a new resettlement plan to ease the weight on the economies of those nations most affected by illegal migrants, Italy paramount among them. The EU announced a plan this week that would allocate 240 million euros to resettling the migrants who are already in Europe. The plan would require Europe to distribute 40,000 migrants across the continent. The current plan requires Greece– already swamped with refugees from the Syrian Civil War– 21.91% of migrants, while France and Spain would receive other significant chunks of the migrant population.
The Wall Street Journal reports that experts are predicting significant resistance from the countries least affected by the migrant crisis currently, particularly nations like France and Germany, which are dealing with large immigrant populations independent of the north African crisis. Three European diplomats consulted for the report claim France adamantly refuses to take in more immigrants, given the political climate in the nation already. Paris is currently replete with unsettled migrants, who live in tents in Paris and have little hope of finding stable work and shelter.
The newspaper also notes that the Czech Republic is likely to refuse the proposal because of their disproportionate burden in taking in Ukrainian migrants fleeing the Russian invasion.
Italian officials fear the wave of migrants from north Africa has yet to peak, despite individual weekends where the nation has seen 6,000 African immigrants arrive ashore. In the first weekend of May, Italy was forced to conduct 17 rescue missions to save refugees aboard shaky vessels attempting to reach European land. By the last week of the month, the EU had increased the presence of its Triton search and rescue program to the furthest reaches of European waters, closer not only to Tunisia and Algeria but Libya, the main problem area triggering the migrant crisis.
Both the legitimate government of Libya in Tobruk and the Islamist rival government in control of Tripoli have refused to allow a European military presence in the nation’s waters, and both have claimed that the only solution to the migrant crisis is to force the other government to disband and unite the nation. The Tripoli government warned this week that, without the eradication of the Tobruk government, Libya would “turn Europe completely black.”