Friday, March 04, 2011


With the Italian government estimating that at least 100,000 people are fleeing events in North Africa, the country's Defence Minister having warned Europe of "migration on a Biblical scale" and the Lega Nord indulging in histrionics and suggesting that the Italian military shoot from the shore at incoming boats containing migrants, it is time for an update from an Italian point of view:

A German film crew accompanying migrants on a boat to Lampedusa on Tuesday night told Italian police that there are now no controls along the Tunisian coast so it is relatively easy for boats to leave and they are obviously going to head for the nearest European destination - Lampedusa.  Overwhelmed by the scale of the migration from the beginning, the Lampedusans asked the Italian government for help and it is important to point out that the government kept its promise to transfer the  new arrivals to holding centres in other parts of Italy.  But the boats keep coming - ten on Tuesday - Wednesday night alone, with the largest of these bringing 347 desperate souls to the shores of Lampedusa - so, as soon as the island's holding centres are emptied, they fill up again and now its Mayor, signor Bernardino De Rubeis, has declared that his community is "on its knees".

With the tourist season beginning, the islanders understandably fear the consequences of this mass influx for their economy and, indeed, tour operators are already cancelling bookings on the island and taking it off their list of places to see in the Region of Sicily.  The islanders also fear for their way of life and they are not the only people in Sicily to do so:  A plan to build a special "village" , the Villaggio della Solidarietà, at Mineo, near Catania, for 2,000 of the new arrivals has met with opposition from five mayors of Catania Province, not least the Mayor of Mineo himself who is asking some pertinent questions such as:  What is the long-term plan for the village's proposed inhabitants and how will they be integrated into Italian society?  How will they find work locally in a period when there is little work for Sicilians?  If they do not find work, what are the chances of their turning to crime?   Nevertheless, the village is being built and its first residents are expected to be transferred there within ten days.

Sicily, of course, is an island which understands emigration all too well and few people here are completely unsympathetic towards the migrants.  Under the Italian Constitution, someone claiming political asylum cannot be turned away by Italy and can claim certain rights and I have yet to meet a Sicilian who would argue with that.  But people do want answers to questions such as the ones posed by the Mayor of Mineo and they do not understand, as I do not understand, why the EU is doing so little to help in a situation which concerns the whole world.

What the Lampedusans want is urgent help in an unprecedented emergency on their island:   Last night signor De Rubeis asked for, and got, €800,000 in regional funding to try to alleviate the situation.  Meanwhile, Sicilian Regional Economy Councillor Gaetano Armao has asked the government for tax concessions and the suspension of mortgage payments for the citizens of Lampedusa.

Both the Sicilian Region and the Italian government hope that the Villaggio della Solidarietà will become a model for other parts of Italy and other European countries involved in this crisis.  The Governor of Catania Province, Giuseppe Castiglione, has requested that the transfer of refugees to the village be carried out gradually so that the adequacy of its administration and structures can be tested while the five mayors who voted against the project will be monitoring developments there carefully.   No one is pretending that the Villaggio is an ideal solution but it is a brave attempt to do something in a situation in which Italy finds herself strangely alone.

Viewed from here, it is clear that the fleeing North Africans need help and Italy needs help to help them.


annechung said...

I feel for the people in Lampedusa. I feel for the people of Sicily. These are not places with unlimited means, just ordinary folks trying to feed themselves and their families. The influx of such huge numbers will just overwhelm all your social services. I don't know what the solution is if there is any.Everyone in the maghreb knows about 'Lampedusa'!

Lee said...

It's such a problem and there are no easy solutions, Pat, unfortunately. It's so very sad. We have our own concerns here too with "boat people" arriving on our doorstep all the time. These are "Catch-22" situations...the proverbial "between a rock and a hard place" scenario.

I don't know what the answer is or the solution...(are there any?)- one has to feel compassion for these poor souls...and on the other hand, concerns are natural...and the concerns are deep.

This is a universal problem...and has to be handled as such...I believe.

I know will sound naive...but perhaps another area of land, somewhere, should become a designated country to become a homeland for them all, no matter where they are from, a new start in life...just as the State of Israel was declared in 1948...but humans being humans...trouble would follow.

I just don't know....

RNSANE said...

What a problem Italy is facing with the exodus from Libya, yet one has complete sympathy with the fleeing refugees. It is such a tragedy that Kadafi's billions cannot be used to povide these people with asylum in a safe place. The slaughter of innocents in Egypt and, now, Libya is so tragic.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Anne. I agree with you and I just don't know what the solution is either. Hi, Lee. Yes, very sad and Catch 22 as you say. I also agree with you on human nature. Hi, Carmen. Yes, terrible. People here want to help but are at their wits' end.

LindyLouMac said...

This is sad and very worrying situation for all concerned.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, LindyLouMac. I agree.

Whispering Walls said...

It's a continuing problem and the UN should intervene

Ellee Seymour said...

It's a very difficult situation. My scientist friend thinks there will be a lot more migration as climate change takes effect and starving people with no food and drink and are forced across borders.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, WW. I agree. Hi, Ellee. I'm sure your friend is right. Another ten boats came across last night.


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