Explore the region. Get involved in your community. Experience moments of joy.
Delivered Tuesdays & Thursdays
Ruth Sherlock |
NPRFriday, September 22, 2023
Thousands of migrants crossing from Tunisia to the Italian island of Lampedusa are overwhelming the tiny island, and testing the welcome of those who live there.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
This week, more migrants arrived on Italy's Lampedusa than the small resort island's entire population. The deputy mayor says that some 12,000 people came on smugglers boats from nearby Tunisia and Libya. Exhausted, they crowded the town, asking for food and for water. The arrivals have again plunged the EU, Italy's government and the people of Lampedusa into crisis over migration. From Lampedusa, here's NPR's Ruth Sherlock.
RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: This harbor in Lampedusa is crowded with dilapidated wooden and metal smugglers boats, some half-submerged. There are discarded life jackets, rotting clothes and plastic bottles floating in the water. It's the debris of the thousands of migrants that arrived on these shores in recent days. And still they come. On the dock, men and some families from two more boats wait to be taken to Lampedusa's migrant reception center, all from Tunisia. They're exhausted but relieved to have made it across the Mediterranean, where so many others drown. They were poor in Tunisia, and now they say in unison, they hope for a better life. In Lampedusa town, I meet Moussa Koulibaly (ph).
MOUSSA KOULIBALY: (Speaking Italian).
SHERLOCK: He tells me how he himself arrived as a migrant from Guinea in 2017.
KOULIBALY: (Speaking Italian).
SHERLOCK: "I ask them about their health," he says to me in perfect Italian, explaining he translates for and advises the migrants that come to the local medical clinic.
SHERLOCK: He says when the migrants arrive at the port, they sometimes tut and kiss their teeth to catch attention.
SHERLOCK: He tells them, don't ever do that, brother. It's rude here. Moussa says he understands how local residents of Lampedusa feel at so many arrivals.
KOULIBALY: (Through interpreter) As a migrant myself, it's normal that I welcome others to my home. But so many every day without an invite is too much. And I say this as a migrant.
SHERLOCK: After this latest influx, the Italian citizens of Lampedusa are rebelling but not against the migrants - against their own government.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Shouting in Italian).
SHERLOCK: When Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni visited the island with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen this week, residents blocked their convoy, demanding to know how they were going to stop the migrant arrivals.
GIACOMO SFERLAZZO: (Speaking Italian).
SHERLOCK: The man who led the protest is Giacomo Sferlazzo, a musician and puppet master with long hair and a shell necklace. A Marxist, he's formed what might seem an unlikely union with the town's deputy mayor from the right-wing Lega Party to stop Lampedusa becoming what he calls a military zone.
SFERLAZZO: (Speaking Italian).
SHERLOCK: He lists the many military, naval and police outfits that have a presence on the island because of the migrant arrivals.
SHERLOCK: "This island," he says, "lives off tourism and fishing." They don't want this to become a processing center for those seeking to enter Europe. They're so sensitive to this that citizens blocked a shipment of tents the government had sent to house the extra migrants.
SFERLAZZO: (Through interpreter) We, an island of 11 kilometers by 3, cannot carry the weight of the world.
SHERLOCK: A visit to the local hospital shows how tense the relationship between migrants and the local population can be.
SHERLOCK: It's a small center, but Moussa Koulibaly, the mediator between locals and migrants, tells me they've had to hire separate gynecologists.
KOULIBALY: (Through interpreter) There's a gynecologist dedicated to the migrants and another for the locals so as to not inflame any tensions, so that no pregnant woman seems superior to the other.
SHERLOCK: Later that evening in the main square, Giacomo Sferlazzo, who challenged Prime Minister Meloni, introduces a puppet show.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SHERLOCK: It tells a traditional tale of a battle for survival in which Christians overcome their Muslim enemy in the region.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Italian).
SHERLOCK: It's an uncomfortable metaphor because many residents do help the migrants, offering food and clothes and even ice cream to the new arrivals. And Sferlazzo says he wants peace. But just like the response to the migrant crisis by Europe's governments, few want the island to become the migrants' new home.
Ruth Sherlock, NPR News, Lampedusa.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
CapRadio provides a trusted source of news because of you. As a nonprofit organization, donations from people like you sustain the journalism that allows us to discover stories that are important to our audience. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.