A memorial is being erected on a Mediterranean island located between Italy and Africa in memory of thousands of illegal immigrants who perished trying to reach European shores to make a better life -- mostly the victims of unscrupulous human traffickers who pocket hundreds of euros to take them on rickety boats unfit for the journey.
The memorial, to be unveiled on June 28, has been built using refractory ceramics in the shape of an enormous open door that is five meters (16 feet) high and three meters wide on the island of Lampedusa, which lies 205 kilometers (127 miles) south of Sicily. The monument, designed by Italian artist Mimmo Paladino, will be called "Porta di Lampedusa - Porta d'Europe" (Gateway to Lampedusa - Gateway to Europe).
The project has been speerheaded by Amani, an Italian nonprofit organization that operates projects benefiting Africans including emergency centers in Nairobi for street children and a Kenya-based news service produced by African youth.
"The fundamental significance of this work is to consign to memory this last two-decade period in which we have seen thousands of migrants perish at sea in an inhumane way in an attempt to reach Europe ... often without burial and therefore without pity," the group said in a statement.
Lampedusa has become synonymous with the European Union's problems with illegal immigration from Africa as well as the plight of those migrants, who have taken the ultimate gamble for a better life in the West. The Vienna-based International Center on Migration Policy Development estimates that 100,000 to 120,000 migrants cross the Mediterranean by boat each year. The waves of immigrants arrive on European shores in Spain, Italy and Malta. But many don't make it, with non-government organizations estimating as many as 1,000 deaths in 2007 and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees counting a more conservative 500.
On Sunday alone, 404 African immigrants arrived on Lampedusa. Drownings are frequent near the Italian island, too. On June 6, Italian fishing boats rescued 27 survivors of a capsized boat off the island, and the bodies of 12 less-fortunate occupants were also recovered.
On Tuesday, Egypt's ambassador to Libya reported the latest known victims of these perilous journeys. According to the ambassador, a fishing vessel carrying 150 would-be immigrants sank off the Libyan coast on June 7. Only two occupants survived. The Italian Interior Ministry estimates that 16,500 illegal immigrants left Libya for Italy in 2007, according to the Associated Press.
On Monday, 54 migrants were rescued off Malta by the Maltese navy, and the bodies of six drowned Somalis were found.