Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Thursday paid tribute to at least 67 asylum seekers who perished Sunday after their boat hit rocks off the coast of Crotone.
It was the first time in years that such a high-ranking official has traveled to the site of a disaster involving migrants.
Migration is a polarizing issue in Italy, which has been calling for policy reforms at European Union (EU) level to help dilute the social and economic impact of migrant arrivals. Italy is the most common landing point in Europe for migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
The ship that broke apart Sunday with as many as 200 migrants on board was headed to the southern Italian region of Calabria from Türkiye. Italy is the main destination for asylum seekers setting off from Türkiye, the eastern route, as well as from Libya and Tunisia via the central route.
Around 80 people survived the disaster, but the death toll may rise far higher than the current official figure of 67.
Mattarella paused to pay tribute to the coffins laid out at the Palamilione Sports Center in Crotone, spoke with local officials and visited a hospital where 15 survivors are being treated. He also distributed toys to children in the hospital’s pediatric ward.
Mattarella has reportedly promised to support the repatriation of the bodies of those who died in the accident, as well as helping survivors.
The President’s visit is seen as an important symbolic gesture during a period of debate over migrant policy, and over the country’s role in setting EU policy in the area. ■