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African migrants go to Italian quake zone to help survivors

world Updated: Aug 27, 2016 07:39 IST
Italy earthquake

A woman sits in the courtyard of the ‘Don Minozzi’ convent in Amatrice, central Italy on Friday, two days after an earthquake. Strong aftershocks damaged two key access roads into quake-struck Amatrice on Friday.(AP)

African migrants hoping to start a new life in Italy after risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean have headed to the area of Wednesday’s earthquake, helping local people who lost everything in the disaster.

Wearing bright orange overalls, the group from a temporary hostel about 50 km away blended in on Friday with other volunteer workers who have come from all over Italy.

“We need to help the people here,” said a 20-year-old man from the West African state of Benin, who gave his name only as Abdullah.

“We saw people losing their lives and we feel bad. It’s to show respect for them and their dignity,” he told Reuters Television on the outskirts of Pescara del Tronto, one of the devastated villages.

Read | Nun in iconic Italy earthquake photo texted friends ‘adieu’

A Virgin Mary statue is seen in a church following an earthquake at Cossito near Amatrice, central Italy. (Reuters)

Using shovels, hoes and rakes, the group of about 20 migrants helped to prepare the ground for tents and cleared a field for helicopter landings. During a break, the migrants, who are all Muslims, knelt to pray near one of the tents.

“It was their idea. They wanted to do something, so we helped make it happen,” said Letizia Dellabarba of the Human Solidarity Group (GUS) charity that brought the migrants to Pescara del Tronto.

Hopes of finding more survivors faded on Friday three days after the powerful quake hit central Italy, with the death toll rising to 267.

See gallery: ‘Can hear voices under rubble’: First pictures after the Italy quake

Italy has taken in more than 420,000 boat migrants, most from Africa, since the start of 2014. The influx has caused political friction, with some right-wing parties lambasting the government for not doing more to halt the flow.

Even the tragedy of the earthquake did not temper some anti-immigrant sentiment in the country.

Rescue and emergency services personnel walk next to an excavator used to search for victims under the remains of a building in the damaged central Italian village of Amatrice on Friday, two day after a 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck the region killing some 267 people. (AFP)

Under a headline reading “Criminal State”, the right-wing newspaper Libero ran two pictures side-by-side on its front page - one showing Italian quake victims sleeping on the floor of a basketball court and another showing smiling African immigrants in front of a hotel where the government is putting them up.

Dellabarba said most of the migrants who helped in the quake zone were from Burkina Fasso, Niger and Senegal and had arrived in Italy in boats run by human traffickers.

She said some of them had been jailed in Libya before paying traffickers to travel on unseaworthy rubber boats to Sicily. Thousands of migrants have died trying to make the crossing.

All of the group are seeking asylum in Italy, she added.

Read | ‘The town isn’t here’: Italy quake kills 247, rescuers search for survivors