ROME (Reuters) - A cat which accompanied her owner across the desert from Sudan to Libya and then on a migrant boat to Italy has been taken into quarantine on the island of Lampedusa after authorities promised to reunite the pair, La Repubblica daily reported on Tuesday.
The paper said the black and white cat, named Lola was rescued with her owner by a British patrol boat after evading border controls and migrant traffickers during the months-long journey hidden in a traveling bag.
TV footage on La Repubblica’s website showed aid workers calming the distraught owner, identified only as Sama, after she had disembarked and Lola was held back for health reasons.
The mayor of Lampedusa Giusy Nicolini and the island’s doctor Pietro Bartolo intervened to save the cat, which would otherwise probably have been thrown into the sea to drown, La Repubblica said.
“It’s the first time something like this has happened, the first time a cat has arrived in Lampedusa from the Libyan coast and by law she couldn’t be disembarked for health reasons,” the newspaper quoted Nicolini as saying.
“We don’t know if Lola has any diseases which could be contagious but in the end we saved her and found a solution.”
The story provided a rare bright moment in the unrelentingly grim Mediterranean migrant crisis, in which thousands, including many young children, have lost their lives trying to cross from North Africa into Europe.
La Repubblica said Lola was handed over to a local animal welfare activist who will keep her isolated until a vet can inspect and vaccinate her, while Sama, from Sudan, has been transferred to a migrant reception center on the Sicilian mainland.
The paper quoted officials as saying Lola had been Sama’s only comfort during the arduous journey and they promised to bring them together again once the quarantine period was over.
“It’s a commitment we have made to Sama and we will respect it,” Nicolini said.
Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Andrew Heavens