Report from the Rome Delegation: Information for all Eritreans Regarding the Lampedusa Tragedy
Report from the Rome Delegation: Information for all Eritreans Regarding the Lampedusa Tragedy
EYSC and the Bologna Forum sent a small delegation to Rome to liaise with decision makers of the Italian Government in the case of Lampedusa. The 3-day visit started on Tuesday morning the 15th of October and ended on Thursday late afternoon the 17th.
Objectives of the Visit:
1. To create a long overdue transparent and direct communication channel with the Government of Italy that informs the victims’ families and Eritreans all over the world who are deeply troubled and primarily affected by the tragedy. Everyone is left in the dark, or at best, draws conclusions from various media reports; this needed to change.
2. To receive accurate first hand information about the repatriation process, any procedures for the families of victims, the planned burial, or other related efforts underway by the Government of Italy.
Further, the dictatorial PFDJ are not representing the interest of the oppressed people of Eritrea, and it was unacceptable that they were leading the communication with Italian decision makers as Eritrea’s ‘representatives’ using this advantage for their own political benefits. Besides, no information was given by the PFDJ regime to the people or grieving families in Eritrea and elsewhere regarding the procedure to request bodies of loved ones.
3. To submit an official written request for repatriation of all victims in person to the Government of Italy so they could be buried according to Eritrean tradition.
4. To provide the Government of Italy with important updates of related dynamics in Eritrean communities, in particular regarding strong concerns about the latest exploitation of the tragedy by the PFDJ.
General Information regarding the visit:
The small delegation attended a total of three meetings with the Italian Government. Two of those meetings were also attended by Abba Musie Zerai who was in Rome at the time. The meetings were held at the Parliament Building with members of Parliament and the Foreign Ministry, further at the Parliament offices at Via Poli, and lastly at the offices of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs where the delegation met with senior decision makers.
The meetings were granted at shortest notice within 3 days and less. The delegation however did not receive any access to the Ministry of Interior during its Rome visit, despite intense request and pursuit to be heard.
Summary of the Findings and Information for the Eritrean People:
1. According to Italian Law, only families can request bodies, not governments. It is therefore impossible for the Italian Government to release all bodies for repatriation to Eritrea. Any final decision here would therefore lay with the Italian Jurisdiction, not the government.
2. The PFDJ regime did submit an official request to the Government of Italy asking for the repatriation of all bodies to Eritrea. The official request was made at the end of last week an entire week after the tragedy and after the embassy announcement on Alenalki.com. As the regime was in direct communication with the Italian Government at that time, it can be assumed that the PFDJ regime made the request for transfer of the bodies to Eritrea, knowing very well that the Italian Law would not allow it. It would be a safe call to make, even if there was no political interest in such a transfer.
3. According to Italian Law, bodies can only be given to families after DNA verification. The government has so far received around 25 requests for bodies, another 15 or so are with the Agency Habeshia of Abba Mussie, 3 requests have been made through EYSC, but not all have been finalised according to the official procedure.
4. For the Italian government to release bodies to the families takes a detailed and complicated process and that needs to be followed. The process has – according to the Foreign Ministry – this particular order:
- Photo identification by family members, meaning they have to view and identify their loved one on a photograph; pictures were taken of all the dead. These pictures are currently only accessible in Lampedusa. This is necessary to avoid an unmanageable numbers of DNA requests coming in on the basis of guessing.
- If you recognise a family member on a photograph, you then need to ask for a DNA test to be taken. This can also be done in Lampedusa, using a saliva sample.
- If that is positive, the body will be handed over to the family.
A not verified number of families have finalised this process meaning that possibly around 20 or 30 (maybe less) had DNA matched and are OK to go to Eritrea, that process took largely place with family members who travelled to Lampedusa.
However, we were told that they would first need to be officially released by the Italian Jurisdiction, as all victims and survivors are still involved in a legal case: the official investigation of the tragedy.
5. So far, DNA testing points are only set up in Lampedusa, and it was suggested that the best way for families who want to request the remains of their loved ones should travel to Lampedusa, as the whole process can be completed there. Sample taken from parents would be the easiest to determine the DNA, followed by siblings or children.
6. Responding to our concern that no families had been informed about the process nor had they ever been called forward by the Italian Government or by the Eritrean PFDJ regime, we were told that the access to photographs and DNA test points would be set up in other locations soon and that a family members should contact their Italian Embassy. But no concrete plan was in place at this point.
The Red Cross in particular, but also the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UNHCR had expressed their readiness to assist the process, so family members may contact any of their local offices as well asking for assistance to identify a loved one.
7. Responding to the strong concern expressed by the delegation that families inside Eritrea were not informed, worried about consequences, or living too far away in order to access the Italian Embassy or any of the DNA testing points in other countries, the Government representatives acknowledged our concern, but said that the law would not allow another way around it.
8. Biological samples had been taken from all victims. The delegation was told that even once burial had taken place, this was not the end of the process for families who wanted to request the bodies of their loved ones. DNA samples could be taken and matched thereafter and the coffin or remains of bodies would be extracted from the graves to be handed over.
9. At the time of our meeting on Thursday, no news were available regarding a burial, and it was confirmed that a national ceremony was planned to take place either in Sicily or in Rome. ( a few hours later Abba Musie was informed by a different department that a smaller ceremony was to take place in Sicily on Monday the 21st and that the PFDJ Ambassador was invited to attend)
During a follow up call with one of the government representatives on Friday, the 18th, to gather additional information we were told:
- Not all ministry representatives understand why Sicily was chosen over Lampedusa or Rome.
- This is a ceremony, not a burial, as it was decided that bodies should now remain in the locations they were put into the ground some days ago (contradictory to the first information we had received by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). The news came from the Ministry of Interior.
- The ceremony would be attended by some government ministers, including the Minister for Integration, and probably the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs.
- The Eritrean Embassy was informed about the ceremony.
10. The delegation had handed in an official request for repatriation of all bodies and the submitted the petition signed by more than 7,300 Eritreans as a symbol of the wish of Eritreans at large.
11. The delegation informed the Italian Government representatives of a widespread concern how the PFDJ regime, the oppressors from whom the very victims and survivors in this tragedy fled, are now given the opportunity by the Italian authorities to play the care takers on Italian soil, in particular in Lampedusa. Government representatives were further made aware of current dynamics in the Eritrean Diaspora in particular in regard to refugees and common conducts by the Eritrean Embassy.
12. The delegation was given the opportunity by members of Parliament to compile questions for the Italian Government that could be read out in an emergency hearing in front of Parliament. The questions are now being drawn.
Conclusions and Reflections:
- The objectives of receiving first hand information and creating direct communication lines with the Government of Italy was met (including several direct personal phone lines) and the delegation was invited to use these lines at any time.
- The final decision for any release of victims lies with the Italian Jurisdiction at this time. This includes any individual victims as they are still part of a legal investigation, and it would concern any request for repatriation of Eritreans not identified by family DNA.
- The call for repatriation to Eritrea was made by change seekers just a day after the tragedy too place. At that time the PFDJ regime denied and ignored the fact that Eritrea was witnessing a national tragedy, and referred to the victims as ‘illegal African Immigrants’. When the public call for repatriation become increasingly louder across Eritrean communities worldwide and international media coverage continued, PFDJ gave in to the pressure acknowledging that Eritreans were on the boat blaming Washington for the tragedy. This very first announcement was made entire 6 days after the tragedy took place, the request for the transfer of bodies of Eritrea was made by the regime probably knowing that this would not happen according to Italian Law.
- During the first days after the tragedy, YPFDJ and PFDJ members denounced and even ridiculed the incident on Facebook, and a known YPFDJ leader called the burning boat of Lampedusa a ‘private yacht’. The same people – according to their own sources 15 – of them, have now arrived at Lampedusa and taken on the role of translators, care takers, and facilitators – They are widely disseminating reports on their work in Lampedusa. PFDJ has made major funds available for their group to travel to the far island of Lampedusa. We call upon all change seekers to recognise and protest against this latest propaganda acts.
- PFDJ has failed to acknowledge the tragedy when it happened and it has since not lived up to its responsibility to reach out to families or facilitate the repatriation for as many families as possible inside Eritrea who need to provide their DNA, although PFDJ is well aware of that no bodies can be released without DNA (as PFDJ is directly communicating with the Italian Government and is assisting the process in Lampedusa). The call for repatriation to Eritrea by the regime can therefore be solely viewed as giving in to the pressure of the people and now playing it up for propaganda purposes.
- We call upon all Eritrean opposition media outlets, including the radios, to share the information and finally spread the truth to the Eritrean people across the world. Any questions you may have can be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org.