More obstacles for Syrian refugees arriving at Italian island

(CBS News) LAMPEDUSA, Italy -- Desperate to flee the civil war at home, Syrian refugees in ever greater numbers are risking the perilous journey from North Africa to the Italian island of Lampedusa. So far this month, two boats making the trip capsized, claiming more than 500 lives. But the troubles don't end for the refugees who do make it to land.

The barely seaworthy boats this Italian navy ship is searching for are increasingly loaded with Syrians. The U.N. refugee agency says that since August the number of people who came from the war-ravaged country to Italy is nearly 20 times greater than all of last year.

The troubles don't end for the Syrian refugees who do make it to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
CBS News

In 25 years at sea, Chief Petty Officer Sebastiano Rivette has never seen anything like it.

"I say, 'Jesus, how can you do that? How can you leave the country without knowing where you are going? What they are doing, what they are going to expect at sea?'" he asked.

The overloaded vessels have no safety equipment or navigational aids and only a satellite phone to call for help.

Being rescued from the sea by the Italian navy isn't the end of the migrants' problems, however. Once ashore, they will be dropped into the murky waters of bureaucracy.

A camp is the first port of safety for those who reach Lampedusa Island. Kids already traumatized by the horrors they've seen and experienced have no safe place to play in a camp that has more than three times as many inmates as it has beds.

For two years, the charity Save the Children tried to get permission to take small children out for a few hours a day to play in a more normal environment. To protection officer Viviana Velastro, it seemed like an Sisyphean task.

"We need a lot of authorization, a lot of bureaucratic things to do," she said.

But two weeks ago, bureaucracy came up against an even greater force -- as close as you can get to divine intervention: Pope Francis.

"We knew that the pope personally make a call and then the authorities let us do it," said Velastro.

The migrants will eventually be moved on to accommodate the unceasing tide of newcomers. But even that won't be strong enough to carry them to the freedom they have risked so much to reach.

  • Allen Pizzey

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