Lampedusa's Hotspot System: From Failure to Nonexistence
After a few days of bad weather, with the return of calm seas, people on the move again started to leave and cross the Mediterranean from Tunisia and Libya.
During the day of 12 September alone, 110 iron, wooden and rubber boats arrived. 110 small boats, for about 5000 people in twenty-four hours. Well over the 'record' of 60 that had astonished many a few weeks ago. Numbers not seen for years, and which add up to the approximately 120,000 people who have reached Italy since January 2023 alone: already 15,000 more than the entire year 2022.
It has been a tense few days at the Favaloro pier, where people have been crowded for dozens of hours under the scorching sun.
Some, having passed the gates and some rocks, jumped into the water in an attempt to find some coolness, reaching some boats at anchor and asking for water to drink.
It pains and angers us that the police in riot gear are the only real response that seems to have been given.
On the other hand, hundreds of people, who have arrived in the last two days on the Lampedusa coast, are walking through the streets of the town, crossing and finally reclaiming public space. The hotspot, which could accommodate 389, in front of 7000 people, has simply blown up. That is, it has opened.
The square in front of the church was transformed, as it was years ago, into a meeting place where locals organised the distribution of food they had prepared, thanks also to the solidarity of bakers and restaurateurs who provided what they could.
A strong and fast wave of solidarity: it seems incredible to see people on the move again, sharing space, moments and words with Lampedusians, activists from various organisations and tourists. Of course, there is also no shortage of sad and embarrassing situations, in which some tourists - perhaps secretly eager to meet 'the illegal immigrants' - took pictures of themselves capturing these normally invisible and segregated chimeras.
In fact, all these people would normally never meet, kept separate and segregated by the hotspot system.
But these days a hotspot system seems to no longer exist, or to have completely broken down, in Lampedusa. It has literally been occupied by people on the move, sleeping inside and outside the centre, on the road leading from the entrance gate to the large car park, and in the abandoned huts around, and in every nook and cranny.
Basic goods, such as water and food, are not enough. Due to the high number of people, there is a structural lack of distribution even of the goods that are present, and tensions seem to mount slowly but steadily.
The Red Cross and workers from other organisations have been prevented from entering the hotspot centre for 'security reasons' since yesterday morning. This seems an overwhelming situation for everyone. The pre-identification procedures, of course, are completely blown.
Breaking out of this stalemate it's very complex due to the continuous flow of arrivals : for today, as many as 2000 people are expected to be transferred between regular ships and military assets. For tomorrow another 2300 or so. Of course, it remains unpredictable how many people will continue to reach the island at the same time.
In reaction to all this, we are not surprised, but again disappointed, that the city council is declaring a state of emergency still based on the rhetoric of 'invasion'.
A day of city mourning has also been declared for the death of a 5-month-old baby, who did not survive the crossing and was found two days ago during a rescue.
We are comforted, however, that a torchlight procession has been called by Lampedusians for tonight at 8pm. Banners read: 'STOP DEAD AT SEA', 'LEGAL ENTRANCE CHANNELS NOW'.
The Red Cross, Questura and Prefecture, on the other hand, oscillate between denying the problem - 'we are handling everything pretty well' - to shouting at the invasion.
It is not surprising either, but remains a disgrace, that the French government responds by announcing tighter border controls and that the German government announces in these very days - even though the decision stems from agreements already discussed in August regarding the Dublin Convention - that it will suspend the taking in of any refugee who falls under the so-called 'European solidarity mechanism'.
We are facing a new level of breaking down the European borders and border regime by people on the move in the central Mediterranean area.
We stand in full solidarity with them and wish them safe arrival in their destination cities.
But let us remember: every day they continue to die at sea, which proves to be the deadliest border in the world. And this stems from a political choice, which remains intolerable and unacceptable.
Freedom of movement must be a right for all!