Lampedusa cannot forget: a decade of migration management adrift

By Gonzalo Sanchez

Lampedusa, Italy, Oct 2 (EFE).- Ten years ago the Italian island of Lampedusa woke up with 368 migrants dead in one of the largest shipwrecks in the Mediterranean in memory and the tragedy awoke Italy and Europe.

But the phenomenon has persisted amidst errant policies and hesitations. It is a land condemned not to forget.

Lampedusa is the southernmost enclave of Italy, in fact it is closer to Tunisia than to the Sicilian cliffs, and that is why it has become a “Gate to Europe” for migrants who continue to escape from Africa.

Its name is synonymous with an incessant crisis, but also with numerous shipwrecks, although that of Oct. 3, 2013 remains, even today, entrenched in the collective memory of its inhabitants.

That night, a boat leaving Libya sank a mile off the rocky shores of Lampedusa due to a fire on board caused by the call for help from its operator, who burned his own shirt to be seen from land in the darkness.

About 520 people were traveling in the belly of that ship, of whom 368 died.

The tragedy shocked the world and Italy, then governed by the social democrat Enrico Letta, reacted by promoting for the first time an ambitious patrol strategy, Operation Mare Nostrum: “I claim it as a decision of civility,” he told EFE.

It was the origin of European operations with which thousands of immigrants were saved in the following years, such as Triton, between 2014 and 2018, or “Sophia,” until 2020.

But that did not stop the transit of boats or deaths in the Mediterranean: the International Organization for Migration estimates that 28,105 people have disappeared under its waves since 2014.

The sub-Saharan crises, poverty and the climate emergency have worsened the situation in the last year, in which 133,171 immigrants have landed in Italy, double the number a year ago.

The current government of the far-right leader Giorgia Meloni, a striker against immigration for years, weathers these figures as best it can after a summer of chaos and is trying to convince Europe to rewrite the rules for the reception of asylum seekers, by moment with little success.

“It makes me sad to see that the problem continues 10 years later,” Letta said. A paradox between life and death.

Lampedusa is a contradictory land. Called to manage thousands of arrivals each year, everything happens surreptitiously, without the immigrants, locked in their only reception center, interfering with the disembarking of tourists on the island.

However, the islanders, fewer than 6,000, denounce the “abandonment” of the state.

“How can I forget the shipwreck?” said Maria, an old seamstress showing a large scar on her chest. “We don’t have hospitals, they had to take me to Sicily.”

The truth is that the island, with paradisiacal beaches, does not enjoy the best public services but it has a small reinforced clinic precisely to care for arriving immigrants, many of whom are cold and dehydrated.

Its director, Francesco D’Arca, deployed a service point in the port to assist in any emergencies during disembarkations.

“We have had to reorganize ourselves in the last year due to the increase in immigrants, more than 120 percent,” he said.

The doctor is not only the first hand extended to these people, but he also performs autopsies on those who die on these dangerous journeys.

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