Lampedusa awaits a hot summer with intense immigration controversy in Italy

Lampedusa awaits a hot summer with intense immigration controversy in Italy
Under the supervision of Italian police officers, palace immigrants wait to leave the ferry to Lampedusa on Thursday.Bild / Salvatore Cavalli / AFP

On the sunny streets of Lampedusa, teenagers eat a white sandwich with ice cream, a specialty of Sicily and the surrounding region. Older men sit down and chat, and the women take out their clothes to dry. Italian media headlines “Lampedusa on the verge of collapse”, after more than 2,000 migrants and refugees arrived on the island over the weekend.

Far-right politicians Giorgia Meloni (Fratelli Ditalia) and Matteo Salvini (Lega) say an “invasion”. Meloni even asks on social media about “European military intervention” in the form of a ship blockade. “What an idiot,” Salvatore Martello, Mayor of Lampedusa, roars as he picks up a puff of cigar in his messy office.

Reception camp

According to the Social Democratic Party, Al Jazeera can handle expats so far. Yes, the relief camp – which was previously built to hold 250 people – will be crowded with more than 1,700 migrants on Wednesday, but that is a matter of days, says the mayor. Due to the bad weather at sea, only one ship was able to sail to transport people to asylum seekers’ centers on Sicily or the mainland.

A kilometer inland, hidden among the hills, behind the gates of the heavily guarded camp, are mostly young men, packed together on foam rubber mattresses. According to the relief organization Save the Children, there are approximately 500 unaccompanied minors and dozens of children with their relatives. Mayor Martello says most of them left from Libya, and the rest from Tunisia.

As the inhabitants of Lampedusa continue to live, and the only difference is that there are many police cars and army trucks driving across the island, a heated political debate is unfolding at the national level. Is it an emergency in Lampedusa or not? And what will summer bring? With a deeply flattering alert, Italian media have written that between 50,000 and 70,000 people on the Libyan coast are ready to leave.

Magazine photos

In a downtown restaurant, islanders are dazzled by news footage of their sidewalk filled with immigrants, wrapped in aluminum thermal blankets. Hundreds of people had to spend the night there, waiting to be tested for their Coronavirus and transported to the camp. “Is this from yesterday?” Asks a waiter desperately. Even here, the issue of immigration is out of reach for many people. “We only see him on the news,” says one girl.

This does not apply to those working at sea, such as the fisherman Salvatore Risso (29). His boat sits next to the pier where Coast Guard lifeboats dock. While fishing, he regularly encounters boats with needy immigrants, whom he is not allowed to help: this is even punished as human smuggling. We were not shocked by the arrivals. “Nothing new,” he said recklessly.

The numbers confirm this. Although the numbers of arrivals have increased after a long period of decline, which began after Italy signed immigration agreements with Libya in 2017 and were reinforced by the epidemic, they are still much lower than they were during the big waves in 2011 and 2014.

bottleneck

In recent years, Lampedusa has become overburdened as a bottleneck, as NGO rescue ships are almost no longer allowed to sail. NGOs often brought migrants from the sea directly to Sicily or the mainland. Now that they are not there, the race at Lampedusa “middle station” is the only chance for success.

The fight against NGOs was one of Matteo Salvini’s ministry hobbies in 2018, but it still rages between two governments at a later date. Ships are often kept ashore under petty administrative excuses. “It’s like an ambulance is not allowed to drive because it has so many bandages,” says Marta Bernardini of Mediterranean Hope Aid.

Salvini’s theory that NGOs as a “ferry service” was the main attraction of immigration appears to have been categorically nullified by the new increase in arrivals. Bernardini made the initial shelter on the dock and saw a Somali girl struggling from the boat, barely able to walk because of the abuse she endured in the Libyan camps.

Pastor Carmelo La Magra says people are fleeing the bad conditions in their country. He has little understanding of fellow islanders who complain in the coffee shop next to his church that the tourist season is in danger of being lost due to negative publicity. “We are not in a state of emergency, but immigrants.” The priest says the island has its own economic problems, but it is not related to immigration. Lampedusa was called this name years ago and there are always an equal number of tourists.

Ocean liner

Thursday morning, a ship carrying 600 people can finally leave for the mainland, and another 200 leave the island by ship. The relief camp is getting some air again, but as long as nothing changes in European politics, we will have to wait for the cycle to repeat itself.

New arrivals, anticipated political riots, displacements, and then the fuss fades into the next round. Bernardini predicts “It will be a hot summer”. Is it not in Lampedusa, where most of the islanders hardly get anything from it, as is the case in Rome and Brussels.

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