The fall of the Lampedusa Hotspot, people’s freedom and locals’ solidarity.
A few weeks ago, the owner of one of the bars in the old port, was talking about human trafficking and money laundering between institutions and NGOs in relation to what had happened during that day. It was the evening of Thursday 24 August and Lampedusa had been touched by yet another 'exceptional' event: 64 arrivals in one day. Tonight, in that same bar in the old port, a young Tunisian boy was sitting at a table and together with that same owner, albeit in different languages, exchanging life stories.
What had been shaken in Lampedusa, in addition to the collapse of the Hotspot , is the collapse of the years long segregation system, which had undermined anypotential encounter with newly arrived people. A segregation that also provided fertile ground for conspiracy theories about migration, reducing people on the move to either victims or perpetrators of an alleged 'migration crisis'.
Over the past two days, however, without police teams in manhunt mode, Lampedusa streets, public spaces, benches and bars, have been filled with encounters, conversations, pizzas and coffees offered by local inhabitants. Without hotspots and segregation mechanisms, Lampedusa becomes a space for enriching encounters and spontaneus acts of solidarity between locals and newly arrived people. Trays of fish ravioli, arancini, pasta, rice and couscous enter the small room next to the church, where volunteers try to guarantee as many meals as possible to people who, taken to the hotspot after disembarkation, had been unable to access food and water for three days. These scenes were unthinkable only a few days before. Since the beginning of the pandemic, which led to the end of the era of the 'hotspot with a hole', newly-arrived people could not leave the detention centre, and it became almost impossible to imagine an open hotspot, with people walking freely through the city. Last night, 14 September, on Via Roma, groups of people who would never have met last week danced together with joy and complicity.
These days, practice precedes all rhetoric, and what is happening shows that Lampedusa can be a beautiful island in the Mediterranean Sea rather than a border, that its streets can be a place of welcoming and encounter without a closed centre that stifles any space for self-managed solidarity.
The problem is not migration but the mechanism used to manage it.
The situation for the thousands of people who have arrived in recent days remains worrying and precarious. In Contrada Imbriacola, even tonight, people are sleeping on the ground or on cots next to the buses that will take them to the ships for transfers in the morning. Among the people, besides confusion and misinformation, there is a lot of tiredness and fatigue. There are many teenagers and adolescents and many children and pregnant women. There are no showers or sanitary facilities, and people still complain about the inaccessibility of food and water; the competitiveness during food distributions disheartens many because of the tension involved in queuing. The fights that broke out two days ago are an example of this, and since that event most of the workers of all the associations present in the centre have been prevented from entering for reasons of security and guaranteeing their safety.
If the Red Cross and the Prefecture do not want to admit their responsibilities, these are blatant before our eyes and it is not only the images of 7000 people that prove this, but the way situations are handled due to an absolute lack of personnel and, above all, confusion at organisational moments.
During transfers yesterday morning, the carabinieri charged to move people crowded around a departing bus. The latter, at the cost of moving, performed a manoeuvre that squeezed the crowd against a low wall, creating an extremely dangerous situation ( video). All the people who had been standing in line for hours had to move chaotically, creating a commotion from which a brawl began in which at least one person split his eyebrow. Shortly before, one of the police commissioners had tried something different by creating a human caterpillar - people standing in line with their hands on their shoulders - in order to lead them into a bus, but once the doors were opened, other people pounced into it literally jamming it (photo). In other words, people are trudging along at the cost of others' psycho-physical health.
In yesterday evening's transfer on 14 September (photo series with explanation), 300 people remained at the commercial dock from the morning to enter the Galaxy ship at nine o'clock in the evening. Against these 300 people, just as many arrived from the hotspot to board the ship or at least to try to do so.
The tension, especially among those in control, was palpable; the marshals who remained on the island - the four patrols of the police force were all engaged for the day's transfers - 'lined up' between one group and another with the aim of avoiding any attempt to jump on the ship. In reality, people, including teenagers and families with children, hoped until the end to board the ship. No one told them otherwise until all 300 people passed through the only door left open to access the commercial pier. These people were promised that they would leave the next day. Meanwhile, other people from the hotspot have moved to the commercial pier and are spending the night there.
People are demanding to leave and move freely. Obstructing rather than supporting this freedom of movement will lead people and territories back to the same impasses they have regularly experienced in recent years. The hotspot has collapsed, but other forms of borders remain that obstruct something as simple as personal self-determination. Forcing is the source of all problems, not freedom.