Lampedusa is a mediterranean island paradise with bleached white beaches and crystal turquoise water, good food and fresh, local fish. It is the extreme point of Europe, one of Italy’s archipelago, only 80 miles from Tunisia and an ideal holiday destination. It is known as a migrant’s island, and has been for some time, but t is not birds who migrate here it is people. Since the Arab Spring many more have tried, and many more have failed, than usual. Failure usually means death by drowning. Rickety boats, cruel seas and attempts to disembark to rescue vessels at sea, prove fatal.
Success can mean a ticket to Europe via mainland Italy and a Schengan Visa. The Schengan agreement allows EU nationals free entry to those countries in Europe signed up to the agreement. – (almost free: it can cost up to £50 or equivalent) Non EU nationals do not have the same rights. It was agreed there should be no border checks on EU nationals, but non-EU nationals travelling inside the EU are a different matter.
Reception centres for migrants on the island overflow and unaccompanied minors, of necessity, sleep outside on the bare earth. Lampedusa has promised to continue its tradition of welcoming people, but asks Europe to do the same.
Earlier this year 22 people making the hazardous crossing from Libya to Italy who came from a variety of West African countries including Benin, Nigeria and Gambia, were rescued off Lampedusa when their motorised rubber dinghy capsized. Perhaps double that number were drowned. They were a tiny fraction of the 400 or so lost that day.
This event and many like it prompted Pope Francis , himself a descendant of migrants, to visit Lampedusa. He cast wreaths of flowers onto the waters and asked for ‘forgiveness for those who by their decisions at a global level have created situations that lead to these tragedies.’
These deaths barely raise a ripple on the world’s conscience. Not even the plight of the Somali olympic runner, Samia Yusuf Omar, who drowned trying to cross from Libya to Italy in April 2011. She was desperate to find an olympic trainer and her best chance probably lay in Europe and her only escape was by boat.
Her story is a stark contrast to that of Mo Farrah, the Somali runner who moved to the United Kingdom aged 12 and triumphed in the Olympics. and only came to light when former Somali Olympic athlete Abdi Bile brought it up at a talk and Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera investigated. Her story is told by her sister.
“She arrived in Libya in September 2011; for several months we didn’t hear from her when she was lost in the Libyan desert and detained there. Then she decided to go by boat, and we told her not to, and my mother tried to tell her not to. But Samia was very determined and asked for our mother’s forgiveness, and my mother gave it, and she took the boat, and she died.”
The family heard about the death from some people travelling on the same boat.
To paraphrase Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Sicilian author of The Leopard, Lampedusa’s famous son, and eleventh prince:
It is good and in the order of things to die for a cause or for a person, but it is wise to know for whom and for what, or, at the very least, to be sure that someone does.
Perhaps fiction will soften our hearts where news has failed.
,lampedusa project | Théâtre Senza an international theatre ensemble based in Paris who create theatre about stories they feel compelled to tell, aims to raise awareness with the Lampedusa Project by gathering the stories of those who live on the island and those who try to reach it .