End of July - 6th of August
There are 2412 people inside the Contrada Imbriacola hotspot; the weather conditions, in fact, do not allow any connection with the main land. For the same reason, the last few days, due to the strong mistral and very rough sea, with waves of up to 6 metres, have been days of alert; as AlarmPhone wrote in a tweet: 'What we feared and warned about has come true: reports have emerged of several shipwrecks that have occurred in terrible weather conditions over the last few days. Over 90 lives have been lost, we fear there are many more."
On Sunday, 6 August, rescue operations involving fire brigades and coastguards, with naval assets and helicopters, rescued 34 people who had been stranded on the rocks of Ponente, Lampedusa, for more than 30 hours, since Thursday night. According to official statements, the strong wind, impervious location and rough sea had made rescue operations impossible until then. Three women in a very serious condition were immediately transferred to the island's hospital.
Meanwhile, between Sfax and Lampedusa, there were three shipwrecks. In the night between 5 and 6 August, a first boat, with 48 people on board, capsized. Only 45 were rescued, at least 3 were missing, according to initial reconstructions. For a second iron boat, with 42 people on board, all of sub-Saharan origin, the balance is even more ominous: only 14 survived, while around 30 are reported missing.
Even more tragic is the outcome of the shipwreck off the Kerkennah islands in Tunisia: as many as 51 people are missing and 4 bodies have been recovered. According to MiddleEast eyes, from the beginning of 2023 until 20 July, at least 901 lifeless bodies were officially recovered off Sfax. This is an approximate figure, to which must be added bodies recovered and not registered, bodies intercepted and left at sea by the Tunisian and Italian authorities, and bodies never recovered.
On Thursday 3 August, a day when heavy storms were forecast and AlarmPhone had issued several alerts for boats in distress at sea, all activities on the island were restricted due to a crisis in the fuel supply. The Coast Guard SAR operations themselves suffered the blow of the fuel shortage, demonstrating the importance of the presence of civilian boats at sea, as was the case with Open Arms and Nadir. The latter was instructed to take the people on board since no CP could intervene due to the absence of fuel. A CP subsequently reached the position where the operations were taking place and rescued two pregnant women in their ninth month, one of whom gave birth as soon as she arrived at the island's hospital.
The reasons why people take to the sea injured or in the ninth month of pregnancy can be traced back to the still ongoing racist crisis in Tunisia, within which thousands of non-Tunisian and non-white people are forced to live. Over the past few days, the Tunisian Interior Minister has denied, against all evidence, deportations to the Libyan desert, claiming that only small groups, between 6 and 12 people, would be deported at the border with Libya as they tried to enter Tunisia.
The people disembarking on Lampedusa arrive in serious and alarming health conditions; there are many cases of scabies as well as injuries and trauma. One wonders whether the hotspot is a suitable place to deal with such situations and what kind of resources there are to deal with cases of trauma and psychological fragility, which are widespread due to the abuse systematically suffered by people on the road. The health resources available between the infirmary in the hotspot and the island's Outpatient Clinic are often inadequate to respond to requests.
The hotspot remains a de facto closed centre in which it is not possible to leave and which, especially at times of overcrowding, becomes a place and reason for strong tensions between groups and individuals; especially at times when there are more than 2000 people in a centre that should only be able to accommodate 389.
Many, in recent weeks, have also been Tunisians who, 'burning the sea', are reaching the other side of the Mediterranean. Young and old, men and women, families: the profiles of the people arriving in Lampedusa tell of the severe and profound social and economic crisis that Tunisia has been going through for months now.
Despite the profound reasons for these movements, the criminalisation of the migration of Tunisians remains structural and the CPRs the main institution with which Europe and Italy respond. Tunisians are in fact the first nationality among those detained in the CPRs and among those deported.
On Monday, August 1, 14 Tunisians, by order of the Prefecture of Agrigento, were transferred to the CPR of Gradisca di Isonzo and the flight from Lampedusa to Trieste was made with an Embraer F-HFCN of the private company Thalair, which also provides charters within the 'go-to fly' project and guarantees direct flights to the island for tourist purposes.
The securitarian approach seems to be the main track chosen by European governments to cope with the need for movement of people; on the island of LMP, where already one fifth of the inhabitants are law enforcement officers, the reopening of a station with a fixed presence of 42 officers is planned. No step, therefore, towards the demands for demilitarisation brought forward by some of the island's inhabitants and groups.
In the meantime, the small boats with which the crossings are made, often towed back to port empty after rescue (leaving them at sea means pollution but also danger for sailors and damage for fishermen who see their nets run aground in the remains of the boats lowered to the bottom and invisible) are piling up at the Favaloro pier.
Their disposal - for years one of the bitter lines of tension between ship-owners, fishermen, authorities and migrants - which until now has been chaotically managed, seems perhaps to be seeing a turning point.
In fact, the prefecture has reportedly identified a place, 'out of reach of residents and tourists', for the storage of the boats moored at Favaloro, with the redistribution of fuel and engines to the local seamen.
So, instead of the sporadic appeasements - in the form of compensation for the impact on fishing activities, or the shifting of boat carcasses to Sicily aboard barges - it would seem that a less emergency management of the issue could be initiated. Let us see how it will be put into practice.
Barges to trasnfer abounded boats to Sicily