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Immigration

Barroso, Letta heckled on visit to Lampedusa, over policies on refugees and asylum seekers

A top EU delegation has had a hostile reception on its visit to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa. The group were harrangued over the deaths of migrants, including almost 300 killed in a shipwreck least week.

Lambasted in Lampedusa

Dozens of people hurled abuse at European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta when they arrived on the island on Wednesday morning.

"Disgrace" and "killers" and were among the scathing insults heard as Barroso and Letta stepped off their plane.

"Enough with photo opportunities - politicians, go home," a banner read as the group visited an aircraft hangar where the dead bodies are being stored.

The October 3 accident off Lampedusa is only one of numerous tragedies that have taken place as migrants from the Middle East and Africa cross the sea, often on poorly maintained or makeshift vessels.

"Together we can respond in a more adequate way. Europe cannot turn away," Barroso said in a press conference on the island. "This tragedy today shows that it is indispensable to step up our efforts." Barroso announced that the EU would be providing Italy with 30 million euros to help it settle the migrant population.

Letta, meanwhile, announced that the victims of the sinking would receive a state funeral.

A provisional figure puts the number of dead at 289. Although there were 155 survivors, dozens more are believed to have died, with rescuers still searching the wreck.

Fishermen sound note of anger

An estimated 17,000 to 20,000 migrants have died while making the perilous Mediterranean crossing over the past 20 years.

In response to Barroso's visit, fishermen - who were among those who rescued the survivors - sounded their siren in protest against EU and Italian immigration.

One member of EU group was Interior Affairs Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, who on Tuesday called for an operation to be launched to prevent the growing number of fatalities on the Mediterranean Sea.

Italians, and residents of Lampedusa in particular, complain that they are being asked to shoulder an unreasonable share of the burden when it comes to accommodating migrants.

Many islanders themselves complain that the new arrivals are asked to live in "unbearable" circumstances. A center for migrants on the island that houses some 1,000 people is reported to have just 250 beds.

rc/rg (AFP, AP, dpa)

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