Since the 7th September, the day of the sinking- of which there is still a huge lack of concrete information, a group of Tunisians have been held in the Centre in Lampedusa. For some days now, they have been displaying their discontent over the length of their stay on the island and their living conditions. Yesterday, they managed to get out of the Centre and went down to the port to protest in public and ask for an immediate transfer. They attempted to block a ship and many jumped into the water.
Two young men, one from Askavusa and the other, a French national who is an active member of Migreurop and collaborates with Askavusa, were at the port to document what was going on and to lend their support to the Tunisians. Suddenly, they were surrounded by a group of Lampedusans who started threatening them. The member of Askavusa was slapped round the face by one of group and then had his face spat in by someone who actually works in the Reception Centre. Why did such a thing like this happen? The main reason is simply because the two men told them not to have a go at the Tunisians, but instead told them take their anger out on those who were not only responsible for keeping them on the island for so long, but who also wouldn’t let them be filmed because the outside world should know nothing.
It is not understood how the authorities refuse to comprehend the fact that extending the migrants’ stay on the island only increases tensions and makes the conditions unacceptable for the migrants, the Lampedusans and for those who are doing what they can to help the migrants. This brings to mind an article from Corriere Immigrazione from 30/09/2012 after a boat which Askavusa had managed to get possession of was set on fire in an arson attack. Amongst other things the article stated, ‘And also the association Askavusa, who had been donated the boat, seems to believe that the main motivation behind this event is one of racism….,’ and, ‘It is possible to have several doubts over such a reading of the events…. Immigration is an argument, here as elsewhere, which easily excites souls.’, ‘You only have to spread the word that someone (the Tunisians?) stole something or that there was a fight and the fuse is lit…’
Stefania Ragusa’s article, downplayed our fears of an emergent racism on the island in favour of a sensationalist version of events which laid the responsibility with mafia style practices. This article came to mind because it illustrates how such interpretations will be brought to the public eye, without realising or acknowledging that there is a real and serious problem on the island, one of exasperation, of racism and of violence.
The authorities are continuing to consider migrants, especially Tunisians, as a package. They come without emotions, without bodies or souls. They will stay where they are put, without complaining or protesting.
The authorities continue to consider Lampedusa as a no-man’s land, where they can do what they will and even though there were violent clashes in September 2011, a recent arson attack which a group claimed responsibility for and continual threats for those who defend the migrants, no changes are being made.
It would be enough to make sure that the migrants are transferred within an acceptable time frame in order to avoid what happened yesterday. The enormous solidarity which was shown by many Lampedusans in 2011 is a heritage to foster and protect. What is happening at the moment only destroys those who believe that Reception and living together is possible.
Yesterday on the quayside there were also a number of businessmen from north Italy who have businesses on Lampedusa. It was possible to hear them saying things like: the Tunisians ruin the peace and quiet of this island; the Tunisians are not like us; the Tunisians steal and set fire to things; the Tunisians should be sent back to Tunisia; integration is not possible.
They are the same people who clap and earn well off the back of a visit from Baglioni. They are the same people who make sure they are seen speaking openly to the migrants whenever there are television cameras about.
It is not possible to continue in this way. Lampedusa must be able to have its dignity guaranteed and be able to continue its role as an island which is a bridge between Africa and Europe. As the situation stands at the moment, a very dangerous game is being played out which is only likely to become even more dangerous.
Ass. Culturale Askavusa
Lampedusa e Linosa (Ag)