State funeral for Italy migrants

Italy is to hold a state funeral for the hundreds of migrants who died after their boat capsized close to the island of Lampedusa last Thursday.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta made the announcement during a visit to the island with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Mr Barroso pledged 30m euros ($40m) of EU funds to help refugees in Italy.

At least 274 people, mostly from Eritrea and Somalia, died in the capsize. Divers are recovering bodies.

Of more than 500 people on board, only 155 have survived.

It is one of Italy’s worst disasters involving a boat carrying migrants who want to leave Africa and head to Europe.

Lampedusa is a key destination for such boats and many residents have long complained that the authorities in Italy and the European Union are not doing enough to deal with the thousands of migrants who come ashore each year.

‘Reason for hope’

Mr Barroso and Mr Letta visited the temporary mortuary holding the coffins of the victims and met survivors and those who had helped in the rescue.

The two men were heckled on their arrival in Lampedusa, with shouts of “disgrace” and “killers”.

Speaking at a joint news conference, Mr Barroso said he would never forget the sight of hundreds of coffins.

“It’s something, I think, one cannot forget: coffins of babies, coffins of a mother and a child that was born at that moment,” he said.

“This is something that profoundly shocked me.”

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Mr Barroso said he also met survivors who retained hope, and it was now the duty of the European Union “to give reason for that hope”.

He said 30m euros would help Italy to settle its refugees, and listed a range of measures the EU must undertake.

These include strengthening search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean; dealing with the people smugglers; and working more closely with the countries from where the migrants are coming.

Mr Barroso and Mr Letta had been met by a small group of activists and local residents who shouted “shame”, “disgrace” and “killers” as the men landed at the airport in Lampedusa.

“They should be ashamed of themselves. They should solve this humanitarian problem,” one protester was quoted by Agence France-Presse news agency as saying.