Tomorrow, we will be the castaways

3rd October in Lampedusa: Between the parade of politicians and commemoration.
“Closed due to bereavement”, “For peace and respect for our brothers and sisters who died in the sea off Lampedusa” is written on placards hanged on closed shop doors in Lampedusa. It is peace we keep waiting for.

Protests at the airport

The organization on 3rd October in Lampedusa shows once again the paradox and complexity of this island. At 8:30 in the morning, a protest march starts at the airport. A few politicians have arrived, among them MEP Martin Schulz, the House of Deputies President Laura Boldrini and the Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini. “No blood-red show on our bodies,” “Truth about 3rd October”, “Every day is 3rd October,” is written on placards. And justifiably so! Did politicians really have to come today and present themselves with a group of survivors and family members of this disaster? Associations from Lampedusa such as Askavusa, but also many others including business people and those who saved the first shipwrecked in that tragic night, protest against this new farce.

However, for these people of Lampedusa it is not just about “cutting-a-good-figure” of the politicians. On the pamphlet is written: “A day that was supposed to begin with peace and reflection is being used for political propaganda, for the enforcement of militarization strategies and speculations of the island of Lampedusa. The dignity and the rights of the people of Lampedusa, which should be guaranteed by the Italian Constitution, are being treaded under foot for decades. We assume that it is the political will wanting to keep the quality of life deliberately low in Lampedusa to make the militarization and the selling off of the island easier. So, not only the radar systems at the west coast will be replaced by two new and stronger radars but also the number of military systems will be increased before everybody’s eyes”.

After a long discussion, four participants of the protest rally may attend the press conference in an airport hall. Alessandro Puglia, a journalist, describes their contribution in the daily newspaper Repubblica: “We saw the dead bodies. You murdered them. You are not allowed to call them victims of a disaster!” The association Askavusa which has been active for years on the island and advocates the rights of migrants, has organized the protest against the politicians. (…) While Schulz announces more funding for marine and rescue operations, the protesters keep shouting “murderer, murderer” in front of the airport building.”

Also, Vito Fiorino, the owner of the boat who saved 47 people on 3rd October 2013, refused to attend the event. The committee 3rd October (an association who co-organized this memorial) and the municipality of Lampedusa/Linosa invited the eight men and women who were on a private boat trip on 3rd October. However, Vito Fiorino and his then passengers are disappointed and angry. “We have lived with this indifference for 12 months. Now, we want peace”, he says. Nobody approached them after the experienced trauma of the rescue – the night in which they saw so many people dying. Nobody wanted to listen to them. Neither the mayor nor the authorities listened to whom they complained about what happened and about the delayed rescue of the coast guard.

Between protest and memorial at the port

The protest continues at the ferry port. There are the ships of the customs and the coast guard. Both the politicians and the group of survivors and relatives are waiting for the ships to go to the scene of the disaster. There are also protests at the ship cemetery which is in the middle of the island. There, the Italian TV channel RAI takes up a lot of space. The protesters try to disturb the interviews which give the politicians far too much scope one year after the catastrophe. They still talk about that the dying at the sea has to end, but without really changing the European migration policy. On the contrary, they talk about the reinforcement of the border protection agency Frontex instead as if this is the solution.
Four survivors reach the port. They missed the boat taking them to the scene of the disaster. With flowers in their hand, they stare at the sea looking lost and in despair. That is another side of the day. Survivors and relatives try to repress their tumultuous feelings. Ultimately, a customs ship which stayed at the port, gives them a lift so that they can deliver their flowers to the sea and the deceased. This step was important for them.

At the port

Protests at the ship cemetery

The march

At 5 pm, the square in front of the church starts to fill with people you don’t normally see here. Many came to attend the SABIR festival to celebrate the 3rd October. A cultural and musical festival organized by ARCI, the 3rd October committee and the municipality of Lampedusa/Linosa. There is no lack of polemics against the event although so many “important people” were invited to be seen in the moment of feigned national mourning. Security guards nestled on the first floor of a residential building with a direct view of the entrance of the church. Being armed with binoculars and bullet-proof vests, the question arises of what they are afraid. In the church, the archbishop of Agrigento celebrates a mass for the deceased. Across the church, the rightist Lega Nord (Italian regional party) installed their stand. Terrifying and unsightly; they use almost the same words for their protests. “Stop the unnecessary presentation of politicians”. “Enough with the taxes and harassment”. “We want education, health care, transportation, clean energy”.

The mass has ended and the Eritreans come together to march to Porta d’Europa, the gate to Europe where Don Mussie Zerai (now a famous Eritrean priest) is going to celebrate a mass.
There are many participants. The Eritreans are first in line running with their banners saying “Protect the people, not the borders”. Among them was also Guisi Nicolini, the mayor. After inviting the political “elite” to participate to the 3rd October events in Lampedusa, there have been a lot of polemics against her.

The heavens open – tomorrow, we will be the castaways

More and more lightning accompany the memorial. The sky has now turned into a menacing blue-black mass. The first drops of rain fall on the harbour. However, the Eritreans keep singing, the peaceful march keeps going and the crowd still hangs on.

Having arrived at the Porta d’Europa, Don Mussi Zerai begins with the mass. The water of the sea seems to be angry about the dead that it has swallowed. The heavens open – an unbelievable storm with lighting and thunder seems to send the cries of the dead and missing persons to the bottom of the sea. The Eritreans say that the dead are sending messages with the rain. Everyone staunchly brave the storm – frightening yet moving scenery.
Rivers have been formed everywhere in the streets. The rain affects the sight; the ground is slippery, always fearing that the next lightning will strike again. Someone is passing, totally soaked and says with a smile, “Tomorrow, we will be the castaways.” He is right. If we don’t quickly change the policy of death, we will pay for it one day.

The Eritreans are satisfied with the march and with the open-air mass seemingly trying to push us on the ground. Yet, they also ask themselves whether they have somewhat been exploited by the politicians on this “oh so big day”.

Judith Gleitze
Borderline Sicilia/borderline-europe

Translated by Aylin Satmaz