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Tourists laugh, take photos as African migrant drowns in Venice Grand Canal

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Scores of tourists watched an African refugee drown in Venice’s Grand Canal as onlookers filmed him on their phones, laughed and made racist remarks, The Times reports

“Go on, go back home,” shouted one person as the 22-year-old Gambian, named as Pateh Sabally, bobbed up and down in the icy waters of the city’s main waterway.

In one video shot on a mobile phone and released on Italian websites, an unseen man yells “Africa” at the refugee and implores passengers on a passing water bus to throw life belts as Mr Sabally raises his arms in the air before sinking.

Three lifebelts were thrown to him, but after rising to the surface, the man made no effort to reach them, prompting suggestions that he was committing suicide.

In the video, onlookers start to laugh and one man can be heard saying, “Let him die at this point”. No one dived in to save the man as he was caught by a current and pulled under for the last time.

“I don’t want to blame anyone but maybe something more could have been done to save him,” Dino Basso, local head of the Italian association of lifeguards, said.

Mr Sabally had sailed from Africa two years ago, according to local media, and had been brought to the Sicilian port of Pozzallo after the boat he was on was intercepted at sea. He was given a permit to stay in Italy but travelled to Switzerland seeking work, to be closer to relatives living in Germany.

Lacking a permit to stay in Switzerland he was reportedly sent back to Italy. Security cameras at Venice station filmed him sitting on the station steps, which give on to the Grand Canal, before he wandered off, leaving his rucksack behind him.

Ten minutes after he was spotted floating in the canal, where the water was just 5C, police divers arrived on the scene. They located his body an hour later, wrapped around one of the poles used for docking gondolas.

As it was brought ashore, crowds lined the side of the canal to watch, this time in silence.

Groups of African asylum seekers are becoming a familiar site in small towns and villages up and down Italy as the government struggles to house them following the arrival of 181,000 migrants who set sail from Libya last year. Attitudes to the new arrivals are hardening following the decision by neighbouring France and Switzerland to refuse entry to the majority of them, who see Italy as a stepping stone to new lives in Germany, Scandinavia and Britain.

A government plan, announced this month, to make migrants carry out voluntary work as a condition for allowing them to apply for asylum was backed by 63 per cent of Italians in a poll published this week.

 

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