What happens in Lampedusa while the Sea – Watch ship is out at sea?

During the last patrol the island witnessed around 600 disembarkations in the first three days of the mission, then they stopped for a couple of days. The reception centre got overcrowded, hosting more than 1000 migrants against a regular capacity of 380. The disembarkations have been shifted directly to Sicily, where boats transporting high numbers of passengers faced resistances and difficulties to find a place of safety where to disembark. The MSF’s Bourbon Argos was  stuck with 700 migrants on board at the beginning of last week.

In the meantime in Lampedusa they created new spots in the centre by organizing extra transfers by both sea and air, providing an extra speed boat and flights to Northern Italy. The huge ferry leaving the harbour of Lampedusa every morning is not enough anymore.

After all this is the “high season” on the island. The tourists populate the beaches, the restaurants and the streets. The people from the island complain about the traffic and the seasonal workers get no sleeep. Same for the migrants. They take advantage of the good weather which makes the sea lazily sleeping under the sun and they cross. They cross the imaginary line between two continents, two worlds, two lives. They reach Lampedusa and they are transferred in the “resort” prepared to “welcome” them to nowhere: the reception centre.

Lampedusa is an island of transition. For tourists, for migrants. They are not staying here, they pass by. The locals tell stories from the late 90s, when the migrants would get there and ask directions for the train station, to go North. The train station in Lampedusa: a joke. As utopic as the migrants’ perception of Europe. “Europe” as hope, democracy, a new chance. I could read that in the eyes of the man who waived at me, smiling from the bus directed to the centre, exhausted and happy. I waived back in the most welcoming way I managed, while feeling guilty and sad. “Welcome to nowhere my friend, good luck”.

“There are no trains for you in Lampedusa, my friend. The only transport you are allowed to take is the Misericordia”. That is the bus of the reception centre. After the break due to the overcrowded condition of the centre, the Misericordia started again riding the streets of Lampedusa in the weekend, taking migrants in and out. I tried to keep track of the disembarkations but I realized soon that it is pretty much impossible. The movements of the boats in the port and at sea are confusing. Late at night, there is a strange traffic of military aircrafts.

Message from Berlin: “Boat CP 322 from Guardia Costiera approaching!”. I go to the harbour, wait untill 3 am for a show that I start feeling as routine. Disembarkations are routine in Lampedusa. Whether they are shouted in the news or not. hundreds. It is like going to the theatre to watch the same show over and over again. The van of the police with its blue lights approaches “Porto Favarolo”: a new disembarkation. I finish my beer in via Roma, leave the live music and the tourists behind. Change of scene. beginning of the show. In around half an hour more than thirty people among local authorities and humanitarian organizations gather in the harbour. They know each other, they quietly wait. The boat of the coastguard arrives, a doctor quickly checks the situation on board and the migrants are taken out of the vessel on land. In a few minutes everything is back to normality. The whole operation is carried out with extreme professionalism. It is like repeating the same movement again and again in a factory. Immigration is advertised as an emergency but the dynamics to address it have a mechanical precision. Emergency is a fascinating way to call a phenomenon that there is no willingness to address seriously. They know it very well in Lampedusa, a long time before the island became famous for the “emergency of irregular immigration from North Africa to Europe”.

Lampedusa to me is transition, routine, contradiction, mistery, hope and desperation. Beware of this lazy piece of land in the middle of the Mediterranean, the sea whose name means “in the middle of the lands”. Lampedusa welcomes you with the warmth of a mother, respectful of the traditional hospitality of the South. However, Lampedusa protects secrets and dilutes thousands of stories in its slow rythm. It is a silent dance of tragic beauty. The island keeps everything that must be forgotten, like the passport of a young Senegalese man, who threw his identity at sea in the hope of never been returned to his land. But the waves brought it to Lampedusa. One of the thousands of persons who decided to give up their name for a new chance in Europe, yet their identity remains with Lampedusa. Kept and lost on the island, and from there forgotten.

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