The Left must face the truth about UKIP’s working class support

June 8, 2014 at 4:12 pm (AWL, class, elections, Europe, immigration, labour party, populism, posted by JD, unions, workers)

Words of wisdom from Dave Kirk at Workers Liberty:

Pointing the finger: the Ukip poster for the European elections has caused controversy

Above: UKIP’s appeal to angry British workers

In the left’s comments on UKIP “surge” there is much about anger and disenchantment with mainstream politics.

It is true that there is an understandable revulsion against the politicians and parties whose policies and ideology accelerated the effects of the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s.

Tom Walker talks about that anger in his article for Left Unity.

Walker sees UKIP’s support as primarily a repository for anger with the mainstream that is channelled against migrants, minorities and Europe by UKIP. He argues that a strong “populist” party of the left could channel that anger to progressive ends.

Other left commentators have argued a similar thing about the nearly two thirds of voters who abstained in the election. That many of them could be won over by a convincing left party, if it existed.

I think this is dangerous wishful thinking that ignores ideology. Neo-liberal, pro-austerity and anti-migrant ideas are the ruling and largely unchallenged ideas of the age. It would be patronising and wrong to think those working-class voters who voted UKIP were duped into voting for a neo-liberal anti-migrant party. They must to some degree be convinced by, share and reproduce those ideas.

We would also be kidding ourselves if we thought that non-voters shared a form of left wing anti-austerity politics rather then reflecting the balance of ideology amongst those who do vote.

We can win these people to independent working class politics, but we must face facts squarely. Those who vote UKIP or are so despairing that they do not vote are much further from socialism then most Labour voters or Green voters.

Anger is not enough to win people to socialism. We must consciously build a socialist mass movement, a socialist press, a system of socialist education.

To do this the fight to transform the existing organisations of the working class, the unions, is key. It will also require a fight in the political organisation most left-wing workers still look to, the Labour Party.

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Farage taken apart in live LBC interview

May 16, 2014 at 5:47 pm (Europe, immigration, Jim D, media, populism, Racism, UKIP, wankers, wireless)

LBC: “In an interview that has been described in the media as “car-crash radio”, “brutal” and “forensic”, Mr Farage looked rattled before his Director of Communications Patrick O’Flynn interrupted and called an end to the debate.”

The bourgeois media finally does its job re UKIP; about bloody time too.

Congrats to forensic, dead-pan interviewer James O’Brien, who refuses to be deflected by Farage’s bullshit and bluster:

http://www.lbc.co.uk/watch-nigel-farage-v-james-obrien-live-from-1130-90532

Still, at least UKIP didn’t call the cops.

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Does the Morning Star agree with UKIP on immigration?

May 4, 2014 at 6:02 pm (Europe, immigration, Jim D, Racism, Socialist Party, stalinism, workers)

Above: the CPB, Morning Star and (to their shame) the Socialist Party support No2EU

The Morning Star – to all intents and purposes the paper of the Communist Party of Britain – has a problem with Ukip. In particular, it seems unable to make up its collective mind as to whether or not Ukip is racist. Whilst most on the left, including several Labour MPs, have no hesitation in denouncing the Farage rabble for racism, the Morning Star and the CPB front ‘No2EU’ seem not so sure.

Last month the Star ran an article headed No2EU: Ukip Will Win Unless We Tackle EU, that included the following:

But No2EU convener Brian Denny said simply calling Ukip racist would not stop it from success at the May 22 European elections.
“If Labour keeps ignoring the issue the only winners will be Ukip and worse,” he said.
“The free movement of capital and labour, a cornerstone of EU law, is creating chaos across Europe.

Now, the Star isn’t quite saying there that Ukip are not racist, but that “simply calling” it “racist” is insufficient – which is obviously true, as far as it goes.

But the Star‘s true position has been made clear in the present weekend edition May 3-4), which caries an article headed Don’t Be Fooled By Farage, written by John Haylett, who edited the paper from 1995 to 2009 and remains a prominent member of the Party. It includes the following:

The EU has never been hugely popular in Britain, viewed as a hulking continental power that interferes in too many decisions proper to Westminster level or devolved administrations.
And although race relations in Britain are generally good, this is no thanks to a political elite that characterises immigration as a problem.
With unemployment at an underestimated two million-plus level and nearly 900,000 16 to 24-year-olds on the scrapheap, scapegoating migrants provides fertile electoral ground for desperate politicians.
Labour apologises for not being tougher on immigration when in office while the conservative coalition pledges more stringent controls.
Ukip trumps them all by rejecting EU free movement, claiming that 26 million jobless people across the bloc have their eyes on British workers’ jobs
It’s nonsense. It’s scaremongering. It encourages fear of foreigners, but it’s not racist.
Farage has no difficulty knocking down this knee-jerk response, championing a level playing field for would-be migrants and criticising the negative effect of EU Fortress Europe on African and Asian workers seeking jobs in Britain.
The Ukip leader favours an immigration points system whereby employers could bring in staff from anywhere in the world.

I read that as Haylett saying that not only is Ukip not racist, but that he – Haylett – (and, therefore the Star and the CPB) in reality – once you cut through the bullshit – agree with them on immigration.

And if you think that’s me misreading Haylett’s piece for factional reasons, I submit the following, from an article on the same page of the same edition of the Star:

The free movement of labour policy of the EU superficially appears progressive and is seen as such by many on the left, but it is designed only to allow systematic exploitation of labour.
It’s another example of the post-modern myth of “freedom” and “choice.”
The European Court of Justice is also complicit in this with rulings such as the Laval, Viking, Ruffert and Luxembourg cases all defeating trade union moves to prevent migrant workers being used to displace unionised workforces.
One of the often ignored problems with mass migration is the displacement and disruption that its victims suffer.

Now, there’s a serious discussion to be had by trade unionists regarding the impact of immigration upon terms and conditions. But the likes of Denny, Haylett, the Morning Star and the CPB, are not contributing to that debate by parroting what amounts to Ukip propaganda.

And it also explains why they’re so keen to defend Ukip from the charge of racism.

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The anti-EU cause is inevitably racist

April 22, 2014 at 2:06 pm (Europe, immigration, Jim D, Poland, populism, Racism, Socialist Party, stalinism, truth, UKIP, workers)

Ukip poster:

Builder_48sheet_1.jpeg

Labour MP Mike Gapes is quite correct when he denounces Ukip’s latest poster campaign as “racist.”  The slogan “take back control of our country” and posters suggesting that “unlimited cheap labour” from Europe is undermining the conditions of British workers and causing unemployment, is inevitably divisive and racist…

… even when it’s dressed up in “leftist” and pro-trade union language:

Following the accession of eastern European states to the EU, migrant labour has been rapidly moving west while capital and manufacturing jobs are moving east.

While western European countries experience a large influx of migrant labour east European countries are suffering population falls and an inevitable brain drain, leading to a loss of skilled labour and young people as well as an uncertain future of underdevelopment.

In more developed member states, wages have been under pressure in many sectors in a process known as ‘social dumping’, as cheap foreign labour replaces the indigenous workforce and trade union bargaining power is severely weakened.

These problems have arisen in Ireland, most notably in the Irish Ferries dispute, when the company replaced 600 Irish seafarers with labour from Eastern Europe at considerably lower rates of pay.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions is demanding measures to protect particularly unskilled workers where social dumping is threatening jobs.

“It is an iron law of economics that an abundant supply of labour pushes down its cost. It is insulting people’s intelligence to pretend otherwise,” it said in a statement.

Across Europe, it is clear that we are witnessing large movement of capital eastwards as labour heads west. And this is happening in accordance to the principles of the single European market, which allow the ‘free movement of goods, capital, services and labour’, regardless of the social consequences.

Single market rules, therefore, truncate all forms of democracy, including rights to fair wages, working conditions, welfare and social protection and collective bargaining. These EU policies can only mean a continuation of mass migration and, ultimately, feed the poison of racism and fascism, the last refuge of the corporate beast in crisis.

To reverse this increasingly perverse situation, all nation states must have democratic control over their own immigration policy and have the right to apply national legislation in defence of migrant and indigenous workers.

(Alex Gordon of No2EU, speaking in Dublin, October 2011)

PS: the “wave” of migration from Poland is over

PPS: Comrade Coatesy exposes Ukip’s real attitude towards the unemployed

 

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Cameron suppressed report showing immigration is good for UK

March 5, 2014 at 8:13 am (censorship, Conseravative Party, David Cameron, Europe, immigration, Lib Dems, posted by JD, reblogged, Tory scum)

From Adam Bienkov at  politics.co.uk

The prime minister has suppressed a report on EU migration after it found overwhelming evidence that immigration has been good for the British economy.

The report, commissioned by Theresa May, was due to be published at the end of last year but was shelved “indefinitely” by David Cameron after it failed to find evidence to support cutting immigration.

Officials say they were inundated with evidence from experts and businesses arguing that EU migration has been positive for the UK.

“They can’t bring themselves to publish the report before the European elections because they would have to admit that freedom of movement is a good thing,” one official told the Financial Times.

Civil servants complained that the central claims of the report were not backed up by the evidence within it.

Conservative sources also pointed the finger at the Liberal Democrats for trying to block the report.

The revelation follows an intervention by the Office for Budget Responsibility yesterday claiming that the coalition’s immigration cap would make it much harder to cut Britain’s budget deficit.

“Because [immigrants] are more likely to be working age, they’re more likely to be paying taxes and less likely to have relatively large sums of money spent on them for education, for long-term care, for healthcare, for pension expenditure,” OBR chairman Robert Chote told MPs.

Higher net migration allowed a “more beneficial picture” for public finances than would otherwise be the case, he added.

The revelation also comes as chancellor George Osborne addresses eurosceptic groups within his party, who are putting pressure on the government to restrict free movement within the EU.

“The biggest economic risk facing Europe doesn’t come from those who want reform and renegotiation,” he will tell the Fresh Start group of MPs.

“It comes from a failure to reform and renegotiate.”

A Downing Street spokesperson said the government’s report on the impact of EU migration was “ongoing”.

“We will publish it when it is ready,” they added.

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EU workers welcome here!

January 1, 2014 at 7:18 pm (Europe, history, Human rights, immigration, internationalism, literature, posted by JD, Racism, solidarity, Tory scum, UKIP, workers)

This piece by Boyd Tonkin, originally entitled ‘Ignore the xenophobic hysteria and welcome our EU neighbours’, appeared in last Friday’s Independent. It deserves to be as widely disseminated and read as possible. Today – the first day of so-called “open borders” for Bulgarian and Romanian workers coming to Britain  – seems as good a time as any to draw it to your attention:

This may surprise alarmed observers in Sofia and Bucharest – or even in Westminster. But one of the best-loved British books of 2013 takes the form of a fervent and heartfelt tribute to the peoples of Bulgaria and Romania. War hero, writer and traveller Patrick Leigh Fermor died in 2011 before he could publish the third volume of memoirs about his “Great Trudge” though Europe in the mid-1930s. The Broken Road, which appeared posthumously in the autumn, takes the young literary vagabond from the “Iron Gates” on the Danube across both countries to the Black Sea coast.

Everywhere he walks, Leigh Fermor relishes the landscapes and the languages. He admires the culture and the customs. Above all, he comes to love the people of the Balkan peaks and plains: always hospitable and welcoming, forever willing even in the poorest backwater to greet this penniless young Englishman with unstinting generosity, feed him, shelter him and send him on his way with blessings – and with lunch.

Now, what would happen to a late-teenage Bulgarian or Romanian, without lodging, employment or any ready cash, who started to walk, say, from Dover to Glasgow in the spring of 2014? On the evidence of British public life just now, the result would not be a glorious trek across a land of smiles, fondly remembered from a ripe old age.

The Economist magazine has already issued its number-crunched fiat in their favour. Still, this column may count as an early squeak in the almost inaudible chorus of welcome for visitors or migrants to the UK from Bulgaria and Romania. More than a few of us belong to the open-hearted country of Paddy Leigh Fermor rather than the tight little island of Godfrey Bloom. If you wish to, fellow EU citizens, I hope that you will come. Should you choose, quite legitimately, to seek work here, then I hope that you prosper for as long as you stay. And most of all, I hope against hope that our morally bankrupt political class and ruthlessly cynical media will one day start to address the underlying reasons for home-grown fears: the living-standards crisis, deep-seated job insecurity, yawning chasms in wealth and opportunity, the greed and arrogance of a pampered “super-class”, and a chronic lack of decent homes for non-millionaires. Instead, they have set out on yet another sordid scapegoat hunt. Patrick Leigh Fermor Patrick Leigh Fermor

The grievances are genuine. But the actual culprits have got clean away. A useful watchword for 2014 might run: lay the blame where it belongs. August Bebel, a wise German social democrat at the turn of the 20th century, popularised the idea that “anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools”. A century on, the quarry may have changed, but not the toxic rhetoric, nor the squalid logic of victimisation. As all the 28 million people in the so-called “A2” accession countries of the EU must understand, this lather of dread has been whipped into a perfect storm by the confluence of cannily inflammatory media and the blind funk of a shaky governing party. As a result, if you’re looking for fraudulent crystal-ball predictions, outrageously deceitful hucksterism and a brisk trade in ideological scrap and junk, there’s no need to visit some mythical gypsy encampment. You can find all that and more via any visit to Westminster, TV studios and newsrooms – plus a detour, of course, to the Ukip HQ. Read the rest of this entry »

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Peter Griffiths: racist Tory scum

December 11, 2013 at 9:08 pm (Asshole, Conseravative Party, elections, history, immigration, labour party, MPs, populism, posted by JD, Racism, Tory scum)

Today’s Times carries an obituary of Peter Griffiths, who died on November 20th, aged 85. I was astonished to learn that this vile creature lived until so recently, and though he lost his Smethwick seat in 1966, returned as an MP (for Portsmouth North) from 1979 until 1997. Presumably, he remained a Tory to the end. I reproduce the obituary for the benefit,  in particular, of readers unfamiliar with the 1964 Smethwick election and the events that followed:

Above: Peter Griffiths at the time of the Smethwick election

In a parliamentary row that galvanised Westminster in in the opening days of the return of Labour to office in 1964 after 13 years in opposition, the newly elected Conservative MP for Smethwick, Peter Griffiths was branded a “parliamentary leper” by the incoming Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. It happened in an astonishing series of exchanges that prefigured the violent language of the race debate conducted by Enoch Powell later in the decade.

Wilson was furious that his intended Foreign Secretary, the scholarly and liberal-minded Patrick Gordon Walker, had been defeated in his Smethwick constituency after a campaign in which Griffiths had shrewdly exploited local tensions over immigration and the housing shortage in the West Midlands.

Griffiths always denied ever using the electioneering slogan “If you want a n***** for a neighbour, Vote Labour”. It was pointed out that he had done nothing to repudiate, much less ban, placards carried by his supporters bearing the offensive electioneering slogan.

In Parliament, in some of the most extraordinary scenes ever witnessed during a Queen’s Speech debate, the Prime Minister upbraided the leader of the Opposition, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, for refusing to disown Griffiths. Castigating the new MP for having run an “utterly squalid” campaign, Wilson told the House: “If Sir Alec does not take what I am sure is the right course, Smethwick Conservatives will have the satisfaction of having sent a member who, until another election returns him to oblivion, will serve his time as a parliamentary leper.”

There was uproar. The Speaker, Sir Harry Hylton-Foster, was urged by the opposition benches to make the Prime Minister retract his remarks. Hylton-Foster declined to do so, although admitting that he deplored Wilson’s comments. Uproar continued for ten minutes and a score of Tory MPs had walked out of the chamber before order was restored.

In the event, Wilson was prescient. At the general election in 1966 Griffiths lost his Smethwick seat to the actor and Labour candidate Andrew Faulds. He did not return to Parliament until 1979, at Portsmouth North. He was never to be such a conspicuous figure in Parliament again.

[...]

Griffiths did not count himself among far Right Tories. Yet he supported Smethwick council, of which he had been a member since 1955, when it tried to buy up a row of houses to let exclusively to white families. The purchase was blocked by the Labour Housing Minister Richard Crossman.

After his defeat at Smethwick in 1966, Griffiths returned to teaching. He had been head-master of a primary school, Hall Green Road, West Bromwich, at the time of the election. In 1967 he became a lecturer in economics at Portsmouth College of Technology where he spent the next dozen years. In the meantime he had published A Question of Colour? (1966) in which he claimed “no colour prejudice”. The book blamed the spread of disease on immigrants and praised South Africa as a “model of democracy”.

Griffiths unsuccessfully contested Portsmouth North in the February 1974 election which returned a minority Labour administration to office.

In the general election of 1979 which propelled the Tories back to power under Margaret Thatcher, Griffiths captured the seat with a large majority. For the next 18 years he was an assiduous backbencher, making his opposition clear to his constituents and the government on such issues as defence cuts as they might affect Portsmouth Dockyard. In the general election of 1997 which brought Labour to power under Tony Blair he lost his seat.

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Matgamna on Irish Catholics, Muslims, and the Left

November 14, 2013 at 10:35 pm (AWL, Catholicism, communalism, From the archives, history, immigration, Ireland, Islam, islamism, left, Marxism, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, religion, stalinism)

Sean Matgamna.jpg

My friend and comrade Sean Matgamna has lately been the target of an ignorant and/or malicious campaign of largely synthetic outrage and accusations of “racism” (described and analysed here) from sections of the “left” who don’t like his militant secularism and anti-clericalism. The following short piece (from 2002) explains some of the background to Sean’s stance:

The Communist Party with Catholic Irish immigrants then, and the Left with Muslims now

There are striking parallels between the conventional Left’s attitude to Islam now and the way the Communist Party used to relate to Irish Catholic immigrants in Britain. I had some experience of that.

For a while, over forty years ago, I was involved in the work of the Communist Party among Irish people of devout Catholic background in Britain, people from the nearest thing to a theocracy in Europe, where clerics ruled within the glove-puppet institutions of a bourgeois democracy.

Hundreds of thousands of us came to Britain from small towns, backward rural areas, from communities of small commodity-producers that were very different from conditions we encountered in Britain. We spoke English and were racially indistinguishable from the natives, but we brought with us the idea of history as the struggle of the oppressed against oppression and exploitation, derived from what we had learned from teachers, priests, parents and songs, and from reading about Ireland’s centuries-long struggle against England.

Such ideas had very broad implications. It needed only a small shift – no more than a refocusing of those ideas on the society we were now in, and which at first we saw with the eyes of strangers not inclined to be approving – for us to see British society for the class-exploitative system it is, to see our place in it, and to reach the socialist political conclusions that followed from that.

Vast numbers of Irish migrants became part of the labour movement. Quite a few of us became socialists of varying hues, a small number revolutionary socialists. Catholicism was the reason why large numbers of Irish immigrants, whose mindset I have sketched above, did not become communists.

The CPGB ran an Irish front organisation, the Connolly Association. Instead of advocating socialism and secularism and working to organise as communists those being shaken loose from the dogmatic certainties we had learned in a society ruled by Catholic “fundamentalists”, the Connolly Association disguised themselves as simple Irish nationalists. They purveyed ideas not seriously different from those of the ruling party in Dublin, Fianna Fail, except for occasional words in favour of Russian foreign policy.

The real history of 20th century Ireland, and the part played by the Catholic Church and the Catholic “Orange Order”, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, in creating the conditions that led to Partition, were suppressed by these supposed Marxists. Instead, they told a tale in which only the Orange bigots and the British were villains. The concerns and outlook of narrow Catholic nationalism were given a pseudo-anti-imperialist twist. All that mattered was to be “against British imperialism”.

The CPGB thus, for its own manipulative ends, related to the broad mass of Irish Catholic immigrants – who, in the pubs of places like South Manchester, bought the Connolly Association paper Irish Democrat, in large numbers – by accommodating to the Catholic nationalist bigotries we had learned from priests and teachers at home and battening on them.

We had, those of us who took it seriously, a cultural and religious arrogance that would have startled those who did not see us as we saw ourselves – something that, I guess, is also true of many Muslims now. The CPGB did not challenge it. (If this suggests something purely personal to me, I suggest that the reader takes a look at James P Cannon’s review of the novel Moon Gaffney in Notebook of an Agitator.)

For the CPGB this approach made a gruesome sense entirely absent from the SWP’s antics with Islam, because Moscow approved of Dublin’s “non-aligned” foreign policy, which refused NATO military bases in Ireland. Russian foreign policy, and the wish to exploit Irish nationalism against the UK – that was the CPGB leader’s first and main concern.

In this way the Connolly Association and the CPGB cut across the line of development of secularising Irish immigrants: large numbers became lapsed Catholics, but without clearing the debris of religion from their heads. It expelled from its ranks those who wanted to make the Connolly Association socialist and secularist. Instead of helping us move on from middle-class nationalism and the Catholic-chauvinist middle-class interpretation of Irish history, it worked to lock us back into those ideas by telling us in “Marxist” terms that they were the best “anti-imperialism”. What mattered, fundamentally, to the CP leaders was who we were against – Russia’s antagonist, Britain.

(from the Workers Liberty website)

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EU study exposes Tory ‘benefits tourism’ lies

October 14, 2013 at 8:38 pm (benefits, Europe, health service, immigration, Jim D, Tory scum, truth, welfare)

Healthcare spending on non-active EU migrants - estimates

The EU Commission’s report (Impact of mobile EU citizens on national social security systems) leaves no room for doubt: the Tories’ campaign against so-called “benefits tourism” is based upon a pack of lies.

The report finds that “mobile EU citizens are less likely [ie than the national average] to receive disability and unemployment benefits in most countries studied.” In the UK, EU migrants account for just 4% of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants while representing more than 5% of those in employment.

EU spokesman Jonathan Todd told BBC Two’s Daily Politics, “the vast majority of migrants go to the UK to work, and they actually contribute more to the welfare system than they take out, purely because they tend to be younger than the average population, and of working age. The more EU migrants you have, the better off your welfare system is.”

The report also contradicts the claim, published in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph  that “600,000 unemployed migrants are living in Britain…at a cost of £1.5 billion to the NHS alone”. The 600,000 figure turns out not to refer to those who are unemployed but to those who are “economically inactive”, including pensioners, students, school children and the disabled. Of this total, those out of work and claiming Jobseekers Allowance amount to just 28%. In addition, the figures published in the study show that EU migrants are less likely than their UK counterparts to be economically inactive or unemployed. Thirty per cent of migrants are “non-active” compared to 43% of British citizens, while 7.5% are out of work, compared to 7.9% of UK nationals (the unemployment rate at the time the study was conducted).

Here’s the statement from László Andor, the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion:

The study makes clear that the majority of mobile EU citizens move to another Member State to work and puts into perspective the dimension of the so called benefit tourism which is neither widespread nor systematic. The Commission remains committed to ensuring that EU citizens that would like to work in another EU country can do so without facing discrimination or obstacles.

Downing Street responded by issuing a statement saying there is “widespread and understandable” concern about “benefit tourism”: in other words, never mind the facts, just pander  to prejudice.

It would be nice to think Labour will take a principled stand on this, but given recent statements from the Shadow Cabinet, that’s probably too much to hope.

NB: In writing the above, I made extensive use of this report on the New Statesman website – JD

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Lampedusa tragedy: the EU must act

October 4, 2013 at 8:12 pm (Europe, Human rights, immigration, Italy, posted by JD, poverty, Racism, tragedy, UN)

From France 24:

Body bags containing African migrants, who drowned trying to reach Italian shores, lie in the harbour of Lampedusa

Above: some of the bodies at the dockside

Italy calls for EU help after Lampedusa boat tragedy

Italy has asked for help from the European Union to deal with refugee arrivals in the wake of the sinking of a boat carrying migrants off the coast of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa on Thursday, in which it is feared 300 or more people could have died.

Around 500 people, believed to be mostly Eritreans and Somalis, were aboard the 20-metre boat when it capsized and sank on Thursday morning when the vessel was around half of a mile from the island.

By Friday afternoon, 111 bodies, including at least three children and two pregnant women, had been recovered.

But with only 155 survivors plucked from the water almost 24 hours after the disaster, there were fears that the final toll could rise significantly higher in what is one of the worst migrant tragedies to strike the Mediterranean in recent years.

“Two motorboats remained in the area overnight and this morning divers resumed work but we expect to recover more than a hundred [more] bodies from the ship,” coast guard official Floriana Segreto told Reuters.

Meanwhile, a ferry arrived early on Friday with a truck carrying about 100 coffins and four hearses for the dead, who are now lined up along the floor of a hangar at the airport.

“Seeing the bodies of the children was a tragedy,” Pietro Bartolo, a local doctor, told the AFP news agency. “In many years of work here, I have never seen anything like this,” he said.

‘A European tragedy’

Italy is one of the most common destinations for refugees trying to reach Europe from northern Africa and the Middle East.

According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, 8,400 migrants landed in Italy and Malta in the first six months of this year, almost double the 4,500 who arrived during the first half of 2012.

Migrants frequently head for Lampedusa, just 113 km (70 miles) from the coast of Tunisia, and are often found in dangerously overcrowded boats before being taken ashore by the Italian coastguard.

There have mean numerous accidents involving migrant boats attempting to reach Italy and last year almost 500 people were reported dead or missing on the route between Sicily and Tunisia, according to UN figures.

Italy has pressed the EU for more help to fight the crisis, which it says concerns the entire 28-nation bloc.

“This is not an Italian tragedy, this is a European tragedy,” said Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano on Thursday.

“Lampedusa has to be considered the frontier of Europe, not the frontier of Italy.”

The EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroemn called on EU countries to do more to take in refugees, which she said would help reduce the number of perilous Mediterranean crossings.

A redoubling of efforts is needed to “fight smugglers exploiting human despair”, she said in a tweet.

‘These deaths did not need to happen’

Meanwhile, repressive policy towards illegal immigrants by Italy and other European countries could have also contributed to the tragedy, a UN official said Thursday.

François Crepeau, the UN’s special rapporteur on migrants’ rights, said that by closing their borders to refugees, European countries are only giving more power to human traffickers.

“Treating irregular migrants only by repressive measures would create these tragedies,” he told reporters. “These deaths did not need to happen.”

In Italy, migrants can work legally only if they have a work permit and a contract before they arrive – a policy pushed through by Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League party.
Migrants who arrive in Lampedusa are processed in centres, screened for asylum and often sent back home.

Crepeau was speaking at the start of a two-day debate at the UN General Assembly on international migration.

At the start of the debate, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered his “deep condolences” and said he hoped the Lampedusa tragedy would be a “spur to action.”

The UN chief said protecting migrants’ rights, fighting against exploitation and improving the public perception of migrants were all crucial.

Pope Francis, who visited the island in July on his first papal trip outside Rome, also expressed his sadness over the incident.

“The word that comes to mind is ‘shame’,” Francis said in unscripted remarks after a speech in the Vatican. “Let us unite our strengths so that such tragedies never happen again.”

On Friday, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta called for a national day of mourning and a minute of silence to be held in all schools to mark the tragedy.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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