Lampedusa prepares for summer - April 2024


In the first three months of 2024, just over 6600 people arrived on the shores of the island of Lampedusa, both autonomously or at the Favaloro Pier, escorted by the Italian Guardia di Finanza or Coast Guard. 

People from various countries and continents, from sub-Saharan Africa to Bangladesh and Pakistan, embarked on makeshift boats to reach the southern coasts of Europe.

There were periods with no arrivals, such as almost all of the second half of February, alternating with others of continuous arrivals, both at night and during the day. In March, in fact, nearly 4400 people disembarked in Lampedusa, of which approximately 3250 were in just the last two weeks: almost a thousand more people compared to January and February.

Commercial Pier, Lampedusa - April 2024
Commercial Pier, Lampedusa - April 2024

Despite the Italian government's continuous assertion of the effectiveness of the agreements reached with the Tunisian President to contain departures from Tunisian shores, people continue to arrive.

From the second half of March, wooden boats and iron boats have resumed departing from Tunisia, after months in which they represented more of an exceptional case compared to departures from Libya. Many people from sub-Saharan Africa have boarded the so-called iron boats.

It is well known how easily these boats can capsize, sometimes due to high waves and overcrowding, but also during transfers onto Italian authorities' boats. The structural racism that permeates migration management prevents a deep and specific reflection that acts proactively to avoid shipwrecks and deaths. Action is therefore often limited, at best, to mourning the bodies of those who have attempted to cross borders. These shipwrecks are the indirect but tangible result of systematic political choices that cause deaths and disappearances at sea month after month, year after year. They are predictable and avoidable massacres. 

In just the last ten days of March, the bodies of two sub-Saharan men arrived in Lampedusa, and many other people, upon arriving at Molo Favaloro, reported the disappearance of friends and relatives. It is difficult to know exactly the number of missing persons. Two women who, in the last five days of March, lost their respective 15-month-old and 6-month-old daughters.

Italian Coast Guard patrol boat arriving at Favaloro Pier, Lampedusa - January 2024
Italian Coast Guard patrol boat arriving at Favaloro Pier, Lampedusa - January 2024

In many situations, people have arrived dehydrated, in a state of hypothermia, and in complete shock. Despite this, the racist and supremacist system prevails relentlessly, sometimes even before people set foot on dry land, with intense interrogations aimed at identifying and criminalizing those who drove the boat.

Between late March and early April, the Tunisian National Guard conducted 48 maritime operations, intercepting more than 1350 people from sub-Saharan Africa. These repression actions increasingly make the situation and living conditions precarious and dangerous for people from sub-Saharan countries in Tunisia. Notably, on April 6th, maritime units carried out 55 operations around Sfax, intercepting 1867 people, almost all from sub-Saharan Africa. Among them, 13 bodies were also found. Josephus Thomas's profile reports on X (formerly Twitter) the death of 9 children who fell into the sea after a maritime operation by the Tunisian National Guard that rammed the boat.

As some activists have already pointed out, invisible shipwrecks continue to occur, making it extremely difficult to understand the dynamics and the people who lost their lives. Massacres that, if it weren't for the bodies found in the waters or the missing persons reported by families and associations, would remain silent and silenced by the violence of the borders.

On the other hand, not all departure attempts have been successful. Many boats have been intercepted at sea by Libyan and Tunisian authorities, and the people aboard have been placed into detention and/or deportation systems without legal guarantees, as activists and local organizations have been denouncing for some time now. It is precisely within this margin of discretion and impunity, where everything is possible for Libyan and Tunisian authorities, that the latest agreements between the European Union and Tunisia are based: a flagship of the Meloni government's anti-migration policies. 

Additionally, there are training programs for Tunisian National Guard personnel, financed and supported through bilateral agreements by the Italian and German governments

As demonstrated by the video published on April 4th by Mediterranea Saving Humans, a patrol boat from the so-called Libyan coast guard aggressively intervenes, chasing and firing shots, during the rescue of a boat in distress in international waters by the Mare Jonio.

Meanwhile, the island of Lampedusa is preparing for summer and the arrival of tourists. Shops and restaurants are opening, houses and apartments are being renovated, and the remains of boats consumed by saltwater and wind are removed.

Wooden boat loaded onto a trailer for transport and disposal in Sicily - Lampedusa, April 2024.
Wooden boat loaded onto a trailer for transport and disposal in Sicily - Lampedusa, April 2024.

From Lampedusa and in response to the latest statements from Meloni, there have been no structural solutions in recent months: wooden and iron boats continue to arrive from Libya and Tunisia; shipwrecks, missing persons at sea, and lifeless bodies have been a daily occurrence, as they have been in previous months and years. Therefore, one wonders if the government/institutional strategy will be the same as last summer. Whether the Italian Red Cross, managing the 389 available places at the Hotspot on the island, foresees structural changes, and if Lampedusa will continue to play such a central role in receiving arrivals of people without documents in the central Mediterranean, with the inevitable consequences in terms of institutional racism and militarization of the territory.