Academic journal article Hemispheres

What Can We Learn from Lampedusa? the Migration from Africa to Europe in the Context of Political Erosion and Collapse of the Sub-Saharan States

Academic journal article Hemispheres

What Can We Learn from Lampedusa? the Migration from Africa to Europe in the Context of Political Erosion and Collapse of the Sub-Saharan States

Article excerpt


Since the turn of the 21st century, Lampedusa - a small Italian island located between Libya, Tunisia, Malta, and Sicily - has become one of the key transit points on the migratory route from Africa, the Near East and the Middle East to Western Europe. According to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), it is one of the deadliest migratory trails in the world.1 In March 2016, after an agreement between the European Union and Turkey had been concluded to limit the migration on the Turkish-Greek route, the Italian (North-African) route with Lampedusa as its critical point once again became the main migration route to Europe.

Lampedusa drew the attention of the international public opinion in March 2005, when the Italian government, acting in accordance with a secret agreement made with Muammar Gaddafi, faced strong objections from the European Parliament and numerous human rights organisations after it deported 180 immigrants to Libya. In 2011, the island returned to the spotlight of the European and global media, when, as a result of the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, 50,000 people arrived in Lampedusa in just 8 months between January and August. In July 2013, the island was put in the spotlight again when Pope Francis set offon his first journey outside Rome and called on Europeans to show solidarity with the refugees in his speech about the "globalisation of indifference". There was as much debate over Lampedusa, if not more, in October 2013, when a boat with 500 people sank on its coast. Over 360 of them, predominantly Somalians and Eritreans, drowned and their bodies were being recovered for a week after. This number is still staggering, despite the shock value of the reports about the deaths of the Mediterranean boat people,2 as well as the victims of the wars in Libya and Syria wearing off.

The Lampedusa incident has many names. Some journalists, commentators and politicians called it an "unfortunate accident." Is this the appropriate form of narration? An "accident" is unexpected, it shocks and frightens. The tragedies near Lampedusa occur repeatedly.3 Thus, can they be called "accidents"? Who is responsible for them? What can we learn from the tragedies near La mpedusa? The complex aetiology of the departures of Africans is worth exploring, in the context of the political erosion and the collapse of the African states. The analysis of the intra-African condition should be complemented with the evaluation of the scale of risk of the European Union's m igration policy, the geopolitical circumstances, and the consequences of migration from Africa to Europe.

Mare Nostrum

Lampedusa is a small, 11 km-long and 3 km-wide island with 6,000 inhabitants. It is the southernmost part of Italy, located 200 km southwest of Sicily, as well as being the closest European territory to Libya - the island lies only 300 km away. The nearest land, Tunisia, is 115 km away. "The whitest island",4 as it has been called in the past, once a harbour for the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs, became a symbolic gateway to Europe for thousands of Africans. However, for many people its waters became a tomb, a no man's land dividing the rich North and the poor South. The Mediterranean Sea, called Mare Nostrum by the Romans, is transforming into the "European Sea", yet another jealously guarded wall, which are often built at the borders of civilisations.5

A few meters from the rocky shore of the island stands a monument called "the Gate of Lampedusa - the Gate of Europe" (Porta di Lampedusa - Porta d'Europa) erected in 2008 by Domenico 'Mimmo' Paladino, one of the main representatives of the Italian transavantgarde movement. The simple installation is primarily made up of shoes and bowls invoking the items fished out by the Italian fishermen - the objects left behind by the immigrants who have perished at the sea. The work seems unfinished, as though the artist had left the audience to decide whether to close and wall the gates or to throw them wide open. …

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