October 3 is an infamous date for Lampedusa. Every year since 2013 the island commemorates the death of 368 migrants right in front of its shore, only 2 miles away.
Picture: The Telegraph.
The events of that night will always remain blurred. The bodies of the victims collected that night and during the next days on the shores or left at sea are the silent symbol of the mystery sorrounding a tragedy that happened under the eyes of Europe. Their scream has been heard on the island before the authorities reached the place of the events, which took them about 45 minutes.
“It took so long for them to come”, Marrik says. “I lost my younger brother while waiting for help”. Marrik is one of te survivors who came to Lampedusa to commemorate their relatives and connationals who died in the attempt to enter Europe. He has been granted the status of refugee and he was back on the island with a group of other young men and a woman. They are now all refugees in Sweden and Norway, hosted by some families in Lampedusa for a few days in occasion of the memorial day.
The preceeding days have been characterized by the unusual presence of “coloured” faces, as they say in Italian language, in Lampedusa. I was surprised by the fact that the authorities would allow the migrants to leave the reception centre while the seasonal tourists are still enjoying the beaches of Lampedusa. It is too early for the guests of the centre to be seen around, indeed. In order to low the impact of immigration on the tourism, they are generally not given permission to circulate freely on the island, while waiting to be transferred to continental Europe. Such rule becomes less strict in winter, when the tourist season is over and only the locals are left on the island. This is based on the misconception that migrants arrivals turned Lampedusa into an unsafe place.
The reality is that even when left free to go around, the migrants themselves do not mix, for some sort of visible and perceived difference building a thick barrier between them and the Europeans. A few days ago I spotted a group of migrants at the beach. They were swimming in their underwear, apart from the rest of the natants, on the rocks alongside the beach. They would not dare coming down to the sand, where the locals and the tourists sunbathe under the big red and yellow umbrellas. That was also the first time I saw Marrick. Despite coming back to Lampedusa after a horrible tragedy which saw him personally involved, and even if welcomed by the administration and the humanitarian organizations based on the island, he would still jump in the sea from the rocks rather than entering from the beach with the Europeans.
I really met Marrick in a bar. He was sitting with a group of survivors, all Eritreans. We spent the night talking, until no one else was around. When asked about what I was doing on the island, I explained them what Sea-Watch is and what it does in the Mediterranean waters. Marrik interrupted me and said “grazie mille”, the Italian translation for “thank you very much”. On behalf of the whole SW organization, I felt that simple gratitude as the best award –if an award is needed- for all SW efforts over the summer.
The following day I saw the group of refugees again at the celebration, hosted by the Eritrean priest who founded Mediterranean Hope, an oragnisation which provides the migrants with a phone number to use when making the distress call at sea. Before leaving to the exact point of the tragedy on board of the boats of the Coast Guard, Guardia di Finanza and Carabinieri, I spotted Marrick and his friends again, we exchanged a long hug and, again, he thanked me for being there.
Each single European citizen should have been there in spirit sharing that moment of painful memory with him and the other refugees. All Europe should actively engage to prevent anyone to suffer such pain. This is the teaching of October 3.