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Enrico Letta

Enrico Letta

President of the Jacques Delors Institut, Dean of the School of International Affairs at Sciences Po ...
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Medias

Enrico Letta : "No one should absolve themselves; the massacre of children is a shame for Italy"

on October 17, 2017, 18:06
Interview - Enrico Letta
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On the  the occasion of the release of the documentary "A common fate" by Fabrizio Gatti about the sinking of a migrant boat in Lampedusa on October 11th, 2013, Enrico Letta, Prime Minister at that time, recalls the rescue operation Mare Nostrum and the massacre. 

« A denouncing reportage – Letta comments – that should be showed in every single school. Kids must understand what we are talking about when we discuss about migrants». Today at the head of the Paris School of International Affairs of Sciences Po Paris, the ex-premier recalls that night of four years ago, when 268 people died between Italy and Malta, only a few days after another shipwreck took place off the coast of Lampedusa, where 368 drowned. «The concatenation of two tragedies in such a short time – he continues – allowed me to find the political consensus to launch operation Mare Nostrum». 

Did you decide on the emotional wave, without hesitation?
« It was immediately clear that those were not isolated episodes, but we were facing a phenomenon of epic proportions that was going to last a long time. A few months earlier, Pope Francis had visited Lampedusa in a prophetic journey, which was very enlightening for me.

Yet, the Italian government was left alone in facing the emergency.
 « I called for the summons of a European Council. There, I told the other heads of state: ‘Italy cannot tolerate that the mare nostrum [translator’s note: the Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea] becomes a mare mortum [translator’s note: dead sea]. I asked for support in the operation we were about to launch. Only one European country answered: Slovenia, by sending one ship. I continued anyway. It was about defending our honour.

Did Europe prefer to look away?
«As a convinced European, I am sorry to say it: that’s what happened. Awareness came only two years later, when the refugees opened the Balkan route, arriving in Germany».

Many accuse operation Mare Nostrum, claiming it has increased the flows of migrants towards Italy. How do you respond?
«It is a lie. Those who accused our boats to serve as ‘taxis’ for the migrants should watch this short film. Also, when the operation was interrupted, the flows did not decrease, on the contrary. I’m still trying to understand why Italy later decided to cease this mission».  

Matteo Renzi’s government stopped Mare Nostrum and substituted it with Triton, which was supposed to ensure greater European cooperation.
«I don’t wish to polemicize. However, I claim with pride my choice as head of the government. In little more than a year, Mare Nostrum saved at least 100 thousand human lives. Our militaries did an extraordinary job compared to the egoism showed by other countries».

”Italian officials let us die”, says one of the survivors of the massacre of October 11th, 2013, while interviewed in the documentary.
« Clear responsibilities emerge from the investigative report. In front of such a tragedy, a State cannot dismiss the case until full justice is done. The documentary clearly shows two additional truths».

Which are?
« Migrants waited for hours at sea. They died because of the ‘bouncing’ of competences between Italy and Malta. Hence, we need a clear chain of command at the European level. The other obvious fact is the inadequacy of Frontex, which is an agency that was created for a different purpose: it is no accident that it is headquartered in Warsaw ».

Today the controversy has moved to the role of NGOs, which are accused of serving as ‘taxis’ for the migrants.
« These are revolting accusations. It might be true that some NGOs have shortcomings or ‘grey areas’. Nevertheless, the key point is another one. Migration is a phenomenon of epic proportions that will stay with us for many years: States must engage directly. Governments should bear the responsibility of safe-and-rescue operations. This was the meaning of Mare Nostrum. I add that the presence of our Navy not only allowed to save many people, but also ensured the collection of evidence needed to stop smugglers ».

For some time now, on immigration, has a part of the political left been using arguments, which were once monopolised by right-wing politicians?
« What my experience tells me is that on these topics, there is no distinction between left and right anymore. There exists a form of collective cynicism. They keep campaigning on the skin of desperate people ».

No Italian politician has had the courage to reintroduce an operation like Mare Nostrum.
« In Italy everything is painted with the same brush; there is no distinction between refugees and economic migrants anymore. This create rejection ».

Some even talk about ‘invasion’.
« We are talking about relevant, but manageable numbers. Germany experienced an invasion, when one million people arrived there in only a few days ».

There exists, however, a strong migratory pressure, which worries many citizens.
« This is why I am convinced that Migration should be the top political priority. It matters more than the ‘spread’ and the future of the Eurozone. The images of the arrivals in Lampedusa and the shanty town in Calais contributed to Brexit. Populism thrives on these fears ».

Another survivor of the tragedy says: “Italy must prove that it treated us like human beings”.
« We are in the midst of a dehumanization process. Our civilisation is getting lost. In 100 years, marine biologists examining the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea will find themselves in front of a war cemetery. They will have to try to explain how it is possible that so many people died in the absence of a real conflict ». 
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