Lampedusa between arrivals and transfers - last week and future developments
Last week thousands of people passed through Lampedusa, forced to transit the island hotspot. On Wednesday 28th of June, on 24 different boats, more than 1200 people arrived; on Thursday 29th of June, with 46 boats, more than 2000 people entered the hotspot.
With a maximum capacity of 389 places, during the nights of Thursday and Friday, the hotspot came to accommodate more than 4000 people despite the continuous and consistent transfers to other centres in Sicily.
Since the Italian Red Cross took over the management of the facility, it has been evident that more adequate means of transporting people have been made available: buses to replace the 9-seater vehicles in which up to three times as many people were loaded and, above all, military ships for the transfer to Sicily. In addition to patrol boats of the Coast Guard and the Guardia di Finanza, the Navy patrol boat 'Cassiopea' was deployed several times during the week, managing to transfer around 1,200 people in a single day. In the last week, transfers even took place within 24 hours after arrival in Lampedusa and, on the days between 28 and 30, some people were transferred directly to Sicily, without going through pre-identification in the Lampedusa facility.
For years, together with other organisations, we have been calling for Lampedusa not to be run as a camp or prison, for people to be held there for as short a time as possible, and for transfers to be intensified. We are therefore constantly observing the recent changes. At the same time, it is imperative that people's rights are respected. Instead, we have seen in recent days that the accelerated but still emergency handling of transfers has meant not only that people often have no idea where they are going or why; but also that family units and loved ones are split up and, even more seriously, that people receive no legal information.
We are also concerned that such efficient speed is not so much a means of ensuring the dignified management of people on the move, but rather a premise for speeding up (and thus making more arbitrary and superficial) the procedures for assessing people's status with a goal of forced repatriations, which seem to be the main and exclusive objective of the 'plans' announced in the media by government representatives in recent hours.
In this sense, the speed of the procedures and the depersonalisation of the practices are in line with the measures envisaged by the 'Cutro' decree; functional, therefore, to facilitate the expulsion and repatriation of people, producing more conditions of 'irregularity', rather than guaranteeing their fundamental rights.
The conditions inside the Lampedusa hotspot are of evident and structural overcrowding; the use of health services and food involve long waits and often tensions. In spite of this situation, none of the people 'hosted' walked in the streets of the town centre; the hotspot remains a facility from which it is not officially forbidden to leave, but in fact it is impossible to do so. What betrays its prison-like aspect, in addition to the conspicuous police presence and the fences, is the use of the facility for properly detention purposes: on 30 June, for example, three Tunisian citizens who returned to Lampedusa despite their expulsion decrees were placed under house arrest inside the hotspot itself.
Lampedusa has always been in the spotlight, and the visit of the Minister of the Interior with the European Commissioner scheduled for Tuesday 4 July is proof of this. It is precisely here that the game is being played to win the image of good management of the 'migratory emergency'. Making the 'Lampedusa gear' work means giving the impression of managing 'the haemorrhage in the central Mediterranean' as if it was an unexpected phenomenon or one that was only just occurring. In the government's perspective, the declaration of emergency and the commissioning serve to oil Lampedusa and move the problem elsewhere, to other hotspots on the peninsula or to improvised reception centres, and prepare the ground for more efficient 'clandestinisation' and/or refoulement mechanisms.
The day of Thursday 29, when more than 2000 people arrived, most of them on iron boats, is emblematic of the worsening situation in Tunisia. Indeed, with the criminalisation of 'sub-Saharans' that exploded after President Kaïs Saïed's racist speech on 21 February, thousands were left homeless and jobless in an environment of generalised racist hatred. It is in this context that taking to the sea in precarious iron boats is one of the few possibilities to seek freedom and security.
On the other hand, it shows the tenacity and strength with which people continue to decide to cross borders, even in spite of the construction of increasingly dangerous, controlled and 'extended' borders.
Finally, it shows how Italian and European efforts to externalise border control fail to seal borders at all, but rather precarise people's living conditions by confronting them with increasingly dangerous choices.
Despite structural racism and border violence, people continue to move and challenge 'Fortress Europe' and we stand in solidarity with all of them, for the freedom to move and to stay!