What is the situation in Lampedusa?
Last weekend, more than 2,000 people arrived on the island in about 24 hours. It creates a shock. It’s a very small island, about half the size of Schiermonnikoog. Yet no migrant can be seen. They were all taken to the so-called “hotspot”. You mainly see the police and other journalists. Due to the strict rules of the crown on the island, it is also very quiet here.
What is the “hotspot” before the place?
“It’s a sort of camp, with containers. It is difficult to see because it is between several hills. There are fences around and it is heavily guarded. You absolutely cannot go in or out. Behind the doors are mostly young men, but also more vulnerable groups, such as women and children.
“There is room for 200 people, now there are around 1,700 people. So everyone is close, but the migrants are never long in Lampedusa. Unlike other refugee camps, such as on the Greek island of Lesvos, where people sometimes sit for years. Here, they leave quite quickly for Sicily, or the Italian mainland. For example, a quarantine ship already left last night. Then they go to centers for asylum seekers. They seek asylum in Italy but do not always stay there, sometimes they travel illegally to France, Germany or the Netherlands ”.
Why are so many people coming to Lampedusa now?
“The fact that many people are now making the crossing is partly due to the good weather conditions. It is difficult to compare with last year. Then the pandemic had just started. By the way, the number of migrants has been higher in previous years, not the biggest peak ever.
“There are also people who think this is due to NGO aid boats, you can find these kinds of posts on social media. But that’s not true, because these boats are chained most of the time. Due to all kinds of administrative rules they are not allowed to navigate, there are also political motives behind them. Someone described it as “an ambulance that is not allowed to drive because there are too many bandages on board”.
Opponents see NGO ships as a kind of “ferry” and a pull factor for migrants. But in recent years, they have been very opposed. And since these ships are not allowed to sail, there may be more pressure on Lampedusa. The road to the island is the shortest and therefore the safest. Without rescue vessels at sea, more people choose this route.
How do the people of Lampedusa react to this?
“Shrug your shoulders a bit. It is not new to them. For many islanders, it feels so far away, although they are very close. They learn about it through the news, just like the Italians in Rome or Milan. Migrants are barely visible on the island. You deal with it mainly when you work at sea; then you see the boats. Fishermen are also prohibited by law from helping them. People are afraid that tourists will stay away when Lampedusa is constantly in the headlines because of the migrants. But that hasn’t stopped tourists, especially Italians, in recent years.
“There is a kind of resignation among the local population. It is not positive, it is a kind of discouragement. Even here there are those who turn a blind eye to the problem. They look to Rome and Brussels to find a solution, as Lampedusa cannot solve this on its own.
And what is Rome doing? The Republic wrote that Prime Minister Mario Draghi wants to send more money to Libya for shelter, as in the agreement between Turkey and the EU. Draghi denies. How do Italian politicians think about this?
“Italy has been sending money to Libya for some time, this is nothing new. But these developments could give new impetus to this financial support. It’s a way of catching the wind on the sails to the right and to the far right. Last weekend, Matteo Salvini from Lega Nord has already played the organ, he spoke of an “invasion”. Giorgia Meloni, from Fratelli d’Italia, even further to the right, pleaded for a blockade to intercept and return the ships. Unethical and also impractical.
And now? Is this large group of migrants a precursor for the rest of the year?
“This fear is there, but it’s very difficult to say. You can’t predict it. For example, they recently thought that many people were sailing from the African coast to the Canary Islands. It also suddenly stopped. But there are just a lot of people who want to go to Europe. “It’s going to be a hot summer,” someone predicted.