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In Pictures: Migrants brave the sea for Italy
In the first three months of the year, 10,962 migrants made the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy.
Last updated: 15 Apr 2014 13:58
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Sicily, Italy - Hundreds of people gathered at Sicily's Augusta port on April 8, and while for some it was a routine afternoon, for others it was a much anticipated, life-altering moment.

For the Italian naval officers, police, paramedics, immigration authority officials, and members of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and international human rights groups - it was just another arrival of sea migrants, an almost daily occurrence here since the beginning of the year.

But for those taking their first steps in Europe, the moment was anything but mundane. 

"We escaped from our home in Damascus to Cairo, and then to Libya, and then came here," said one exhausted looking man, who did not want to be identified, minutes after he and his family disembarked from the Italian naval vessel that had rescued them in international waters. "We just want peace."

The Syrian family was part of a group of 553 people of various nationalities who had left Libya four days earlier. The group included 86 minors and 67 women, two of whom were pregnant. While most of the people arriving are from Syria and Eritrea, there were also sub-Saharan nationalities as well as Pakistani citizens. The youngest migrant was a one-month-old baby from Syria.

"They were on a big fishing boat made of steel, crowded like sardines," said Panzanaro Tonio of the Italian Coast Guard. "Their boat... was experiencing problems with stability and navigation."

The rescue, which took place about 200km off the coast of Italy, marked the beginning of an unprecedented week in which some 8,500 people were saved at sea and brought to Italian shores. The weeklong surge was a part of a wider trend. In the first three months of this year, 10,962 migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Italy, compared to 1,524 in the first quarter of 2013.

The dramatic increase in cross-sea migration to Italy is a result of the ongoing war in Syria and increasing instability in several African countries, according to Carlotta Sami, head of media operations for UNHCR's South Europe office.

Sami praised Italy for improving its sea rescue operations. There has been only one death since the beginning of 2014, after some 8,000 people drowned in the Strait of Sicily during the previous 13 years. But Sami said the Italians must improve their reception system.

"It is sad to see that after many years of experience in receiving refugees and migrants, the Italian government still has not been able to effectively and efficiently receive these people," Sami said, citing slow bureaucracy and inadequate relations among government offices as the main problems.

Currently, thousands of migrants who have applied for asylum in Italy are waiting for their status to be determined, staying in reception centres throughout the country. The biggest such centre in Italy - and in the entire European Union - is Cara Mineo, which is located in the heart of Sicily, 50km from the city of Catania. There are 3,900 asylum-seekers in Cara Mineo, some of whom have been waiting for refugee status for more than a year.


/Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera

Italian navy vessel Comandante Foscari arrived at Augusta port in Sicily on April 8, after rescuing 226 migrants. The rescue was part of operation Mare Nostrum (Our Sea), in which amphibious ships, unmanned drones and helicopters with infrared equipment cooperated to prevent deaths of migrants at sea. Mare Nostrum was launched in October 2013, following incidents off the Italian island of Lampedusa, in which hundreds of migrants drowned when their boats capsized.



/Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera

A Syrian family disembarks from the Comandante Foscari, taking their first steps in Europe. Between April 8 to 14, the Italian navy rescued some 8,500 migrants from the sea who were on their way to the Sicilian coast. Most of the saved were from Syria and Eritrea, which included dozens of minors.



/Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera

Syrian families were met by a field officer from the United Nation Refugee Agency (UNHCR) who explained the procedure of applying for asylum. "Mainly, I just let them know that they are safe and that we are here to help if they need a doctor or have any kind of need or problem,” said Fabiana Giuliani, who works for UNHCR in Sicily. "Just to make them understand that they are not alone."



/Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera

In the past few months, Sergeant Marco Priuitera has supervised at least two migrant landings per week. His job is to coordinate between different authorities and agencies and maintain order on the dock. He said an organised reception of migrants is important for future integration.



/Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera

At the Italian port, migrants were divided into groups based on nationality. Africans in the group that was rescued on April 8 were almost entirely young men, while from Syria most were a part of families.



/Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera

Paul, 18, said he is from Kano state in northern Nigeria and he escaped his home after his parents were killed in an attack. "There are many problems with Boko Haram," he said of the armed group. "They are destroying so many places in Kano state, so I decided to run away." He crossed the border to Niger, and then to Libya, but felt unsafe and decided to head to Italy.



/Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera

Cara Mineo is the largest reception centre for asylum-seekers in Europe. It is located in the heart of Sicily, surrounded by green hills, in a compound that previously served the US military. Currently, the coumpund houses 3,900 asylum-seekers. Some have waited more than a year for their request to be approved.



/Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera

Sebastiano Maccarrone (centre) is Cara Mineo's director. He said there are people from more than 300 ethnic groups living in the compound, where he said the main challenge is avoiding conflicts and getting people to communicate. "We can accept no more than 50 more people because we are very full at this moment. Italy is in an emergency situation," he told Al Jazeera.



/Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera

An asylum-seeker from Nigeria rehearses for a performance that took place the next day in Catania, Sicily's second largest city. Cara Mineo has a football team and a musical group that regularly performs in locations throughout the island as a way to increase interaction between asylum-seekers and locals. 



/Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera

Alex Giabi, 20, is an asylum-seeker from Senegal. He has been in Cara Mineo for 11 months, and has been waiting for a response for his asylum request. In the camp, he started a small business selling rolled cigarettes for 10 cents a piece. Asylum-seekers get an allowance of 17.50 euros per week, as well as three meals per day and free health services.



/Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera

Solomon Merhawi, 35, from Eritrea, works as a cultural mediator in Cara Mineo. He came to Italy on a boat four years ago, applied for asylum and got refugee status. He is educated as a geologist but did not find work in his field. "I cannot say I like to work," said Merhawi. “But with the economic crisis now in Europe and taking everything under consideration - I can say that it is a good job here."



/Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera

Alfonso Di Stefano, a Sicilian and resident of Catania, is an activist for migrant rights. He is also lobbying for the closing of Cara Mineo because he thinks that migrants would never integrate in Italian society if they are confined to camps. "The EU should invest more on solidarity policies and immigration policies, rather than on confinement and securitisation of the frontiers."



/Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera

Toba Owolabi, 28, left Nigeria for Italy two months ago. When he arrived, Italian authorities ordered him to leave in seven days. He stayed and is now homeless and undocumented on the streets of Catania. "I go to the centre of town, sit there for one hour, two hours, look at the Italian boys and girls talking, laughing, just to forget about my troubles," said Owolabi.




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images:
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captions:

Italian navy vessel Comandante Foscari arrived at Augusta port in Sicily on April 8, after rescuing 226 migrants. The rescue was part of operation Mare Nostrum (Our Sea), in which amphibious ships, unmanned drones and helicopters with infrared equipment cooperated to prevent deaths of migrants at sea. Mare Nostrum was launched in October 2013, following incidents off the Italian island of Lampedusa, in which hundreds of migrants drowned when their boats capsized.

;*;

A Syrian family disembarks from the Comandante Foscari, taking their first steps in Europe. Between April 8 to 14, the Italian navy rescued some 8,500 migrants from the sea who were on their way to the Sicilian coast. Most of the saved were from Syria and Eritrea, which included dozens of minors.

;*;

Syrian families were met by a field officer from the United Nation Refugee Agency (UNHCR) who explained the procedure of applying for asylum. "Mainly, I just let them know that they are safe and that we are here to help if they need a doctor or have any kind of need or problem,” said Fabiana Giuliani, who works for UNHCR in Sicily. "Just to make them understand that they are not alone."

;*;

In the past few months, Sergeant Marco Priuitera has supervised at least two migrant landings per week. His job is to coordinate between different authorities and agencies and maintain order on the dock. He said an organised reception of migrants is important for future integration.

;*;

At the Italian port, migrants were divided into groups based on nationality. Africans in the group that was rescued on April 8 were almost entirely young men, while from Syria most were a part of families.

;*;

Paul, 18, said he is from Kano state in northern Nigeria and he escaped his home after his parents were killed in an attack. "There are many problems with Boko Haram," he said of the armed group. "They are destroying so many places in Kano state, so I decided to run away." He crossed the border to Niger, and then to Libya, but felt unsafe and decided to head to Italy.

;*;

Cara Mineo is the largest reception centre for asylum-seekers in Europe. It is located in the heart of Sicily, surrounded by green hills, in a compound that previously served the US military. Currently, the coumpund houses 3,900 asylum-seekers. Some have waited more than a year for their request to be approved.

;*;

Sebastiano Maccarrone (centre) is Cara Mineo(***)s director. He said there are people from more than 300 ethnic groups living in the compound, where he said the main challenge is avoiding conflicts and getting people to communicate. "We can accept no more than 50 more people because we are very full at this moment. Italy is in an emergency situation," he told Al Jazeera.

;*;

An asylum-seeker from Nigeria rehearses for a performance that took place the next day in Catania, Sicily(***)s second largest city. Cara Mineo has a football team and a musical group that regularly performs in locations throughout the island as a way to increase interaction between asylum-seekers and locals. 

;*;

Alex Giabi, 20, is an asylum-seeker from Senegal. He has been in Cara Mineo for 11 months, and has been waiting for a response for his asylum request. In the camp, he started a small business selling rolled cigarettes for 10 cents a piece. Asylum-seekers get an allowance of 17.50 euros per week, as well as three meals per day and free health services.

;*;

Solomon Merhawi, 35, from Eritrea, works as a cultural mediator in Cara Mineo. He came to Italy on a boat four years ago, applied for asylum and got refugee status. He is educated as a geologist but did not find work in his field. "I cannot say I like to work," said Merhawi. “But with the economic crisis now in Europe and taking everything under consideration - I can say that it is a good job here."

;*;

Alfonso Di Stefano, a Sicilian and resident of Catania, is an activist for migrant rights. He is also lobbying for the closing of Cara Mineo because he thinks that migrants would never integrate in Italian society if they are confined to camps. "The EU should invest more on solidarity policies and immigration policies, rather than on confinement and securitisation of the frontiers."

;*;

Toba Owolabi, 28, left Nigeria for Italy two months ago. When he arrived, Italian authorities ordered him to leave in seven days. He stayed and is now homeless and undocumented on the streets of Catania. "I go to the centre of town, sit there for one hour, two hours, look at the Italian boys and girls talking, laughing, just to forget about my troubles," said Owolabi.

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Photographer:
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Image Source:
Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera;*;Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera;*;Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera;*;Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera;*;Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera;*;Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera;*;Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera;*;Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera;*;Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera;*;Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera;*;Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera;*;Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera;*;Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera
Gallery Source:
Daylife
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