Since publishing the first part of this post on the impact on Italy of events in North Africa, Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions Impacting on Italy: Part I Egyptian Uprising Organization Inspires Italian Women--Attenzione Berlusconi!, the Libyan Revolution has added to the influx of migrants to Italy, and particularly to the small refugee service at the island of Lampedusa.
Sadly, some of those migrants are now lost at sea as described in the second article below. Most of these are among the many SubSaharan Africans, legal or illegal, who form a Libyan underclass. Some may have been passing through (though staying years) in a bid to immigrate to Europe. However, events in the country have precipitated more rapid and desperate measures.
Lampedusa, the largest of the Pelagie Islands, in the Province of Agrigento, Region of Sicily, closer to North Africa than to the Italian Mainland.
The European Union, of which Italy is a member, has refused to help Italy with the challenges of processing, returning, or resettling the sudden influx of migrants. This seems quite unfair, to me, as Italy has not invited the migrants, and the small refugee service at Lampedusa was easily overwhelmed by the numbers. Such an efflux from countries at times of instability could have been predicted. The proximity of the Pelagie Islands to North Africa, specifically Tunisia and Libya, makes them a preferred destination.
South coast of Lampedusa, facing Tunisia and Libya
The journey is usually safer than that taken by other migrants, most often SubSaharans traversing the Straits of Gibraltar in ricketty rowboats, after migrating through Morocco. However, as the recent shipwreck of 200-300 passengers detailed in the second article below shows, even this journey is not particularly safe. Moreover, rescue efforts are hampered by Force 5 seas.
LA Times March 7, 2011]
After a few days in which there were no boats arriving at Lampedusa from Tunisia, there are now more arriving from both Tunisia and Libya. In addition, both those countries are struggling with massive displacements of peoples, including workers from around the world, as well as from nearby Egypt, trying to reach their home countries.
New wave of Tunisians arrives on Italian island
(AFP) – 4 days ago
ROME — A new wave of Tunisian boat people landed Sunday at Italy's Lampedusa island, authorities said, as Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he would visit Tunis to try to halt the arrivals.
A first boatload of 133 arrived at Italy's southernmost island shortly before dawn on Sunday, while another 113 landed at around 8:00 am (0600 GMT), they said.
A third boat with around 100 people aboard was rescued a few kilometres (miles) off the tiny island after an Italian journalist who was with them raised the alarm that the boat was taking on water.
Another three boats were headed towards the island, the sources said.
The new arrivals came after a four-day hiatus.
An Italian navy vessel meanwhile left the island at around 2:00 am with some 500 migrants on board to ferry them to the mainland.
They were among more than 15,000 Tunisian migrants who have landed on Italy's shores since the ouster of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a popular revolt in January.
Berlusconi announced the transfers to the mainland during a visit to the island on Wednesday but they were later suspended because of bad weather.
Three big ferries with a total capacity of more than 4,000 were preparing to evacuate the newcomers in an operation that may be completed Sunday, the authorities said.
The Italian government has asked Tunis to stop the exodus and to take back those migrants who have already arrived in Italy.
Late Saturday Rome said Tunis had agreed to take them back though the Tunisian foreign minister had denied this a few hours earlier.
Berlusconi confirmed he would be in Tunis on Monday to address the issue with the Tunisian authorities.
The massive influx of migrants sparked weeks of protests from Lampedusa residents and fierce condemnation from aid organisations over living conditions on the overcrowded island, whose population is just 5,000.
On Friday, Berlusconi said he might allow the migrants to join relatives and friends across Europe, despite open reluctance from European countries to take them in.
Italy last week renewed its appeal to the European Union for help dealing not just with Tunisian migrants looking for a better life, but also with refugees from other parts of Africa formerly held in detention camps in Libya.
Since the conflict in Libya began in mid-February, Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalis have also begun turning up on Lampedusa and other islands in the Pelagian archipelago, which lies closer to north Africa than to mainland Italy.
250 Migrants Missing After Boat Sinks Off Italy
By GAIA PIANIGIANI and RACHEL DONADIO
Published: April 6, 2011
ROME — More than 250 people, including women and children, were missing on Wednesday after their boat capsized off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa in the worst shipwreck since thousands of migrants began traveling to Italy because of the unrest in North Africa.
The vessel, which capsized in the predawn dark, had been carrying mostly sub-Saharan Africans, including at least one pregnant woman. The capsized vessel was among the first to try to reach Lampedusa from Libya since fighting began in Libya in February. About 22,000 migrants have arrived on the island since January, most of them from Tunisia.
The shipwreck is an alarming sign of the challenges facing Italy as it contends with a wave of migrants leaving North Africa. Aid officials on Wednesday called for a swifter response in boat rescues and better coordination among Mediterranean countries in distinguishing between “economic immigrants” seeking work in Europe and refugees seeking asylum.
After interviewing survivors on Lampedusa, Italian officials and the International Organization for Migration estimated that more than 250 people were missing.
By Wednesday afternoon, an Italian patrol boat and a fishing boat had rescued 50 people and had taken them to Lampedusa, but coast guard officials feared that many more were still at sea, and rough weather was hampering rescue efforts.
“We are still looking for at the least 150 people in the sea, but we fear there could be even more than that,” said Cmdr. Valerio Alessandro, a spokesman for the Italian port authorities. He later revised that number to 250, and he said about 20 bodies had been seen in the water.
According to the International Organization for Migration, the boat left Libya carrying migrants and asylum seekers from Somalia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Ivory Coast, Chad and Sudan. The organization said that an estimated 40 women and 5 children had been on board, and that only 2 women had been rescued so far.
Early Wednesday morning, an Italian Coast Guard patrol boat reached the stricken vessel after those aboard, using a satellite phone, had sought help from the Maltese maritime authorities, Commander Alessandro said.
Just as the coast guard boat reached the vessel, which was taking on water, its engine stalled. Strong waves and panicking passengers caused the vessel to rock, people began falling overboard and it capsized.
Italian Coast Guard officials were using aircraft and boats to search for possible survivors, with help from the financial police, Commander Alessandro said.
Lying in a clinic in Lampedusa, Peter Hougot, 29, from Cameroon, recounted the crossing from Libya. “My 24-year-old girlfriend died, and I lost her and my friend who was traveling with us,” Mr. Hougot said.
He said he had been working as a house painter in Libya for the past two years and had paid $400 to a middleman to cross the Mediterranean to Italy.
He said that he had refused to join a militia fighting for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and that in response he was told “to go out to go to Italy.”
In a television interview, one survivor said he had paid a Somali group for passage to Italy from Libya.
“The survivors are all in a state of shock,” said Simona Moscarelli, an official for the International Organization for Migration who was acting as an interpreter for the rescued migrants and the police in Lampedusa on Wednesday.
“One man told me he had lost his 1-year-old son. One of the two surviving women told me how she had lost her husband,” Ms. Moscarelli added in a statement.
The boat capsized about 39 miles from Lampedusa, which since January has attracted thousands of migrants and refugees fleeing unrest in North Africa. Some of the migrants from the boat said in Italian television interviews that they had come from the western port city of Zuwarah, near the Tunisian border.
Last week, Lampedusa was on the brink of collapse, running low on food and water, with thousands of migrants sleeping in the open air. In response, Italy transferred many of them to makeshift tent camps on the Italian mainland, from which a number of them easily escaped and tried to make their way to other parts of Italy and Europe to seek work.
The spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Italy, Laura Boldrini, said the shipwreck underscored the need for better coordination in identifying the migrants arriving in Italy from North Africa.
So far, most have been Tunisians seeking work, Ms. Boldrini said, but in recent days more boats have been coming from Libya and could contain refugees. “At the moment, this has been very limited, but we have to be ready for the possibility they will come,” she said.
On Tuesday, the Italian interior minister, Roberto Maroni, signed an agreement with the Tunisian government to try to block the flow of migrants from that country. The Tunisian authorities will accept the repatriation of new arrivals, and Italy will provide Tunisia with boats and off-road vehicles to put into effect the border controls that have almost ceased since Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted from the Tunisian presidency in a popular revolt in January.
Italy said it would also grant some Tunisian arrivals six-month temporary residence permits.
Critics have objected that the agreement does not set any dates or provide practical details on how the repatriation would take place. In a statement on Wednesday on the Italian Interior Ministry’s Web site, Mr. Maroni expressed satisfaction with the renewed cooperation between Italy and Tunisia, but he also said the agreement “will now have to be implemented.”
Gianni Cipriano contributed reporting from Lampedusa, Italy.
A version of this article appeared in print on April 7, 2011, on page A4 of the New York edition.
As noted above, Berlusconi plans to visit Tunis on Monday, April 11, to discuss alternatives to migration. Perhaps some North Africans are a distraction for difficulties with another.
Berlusconi: I'm too old for too much sex--Embattled Italian PM says his age precludes him from the exploits suggested by investigators"
"Berlusconi sex trial adjourned until May, 'Ruby' lashes out at media"
Your comments, thoughts, impressions?
Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions Impacting on Italy: Part I Egyptian Uprising Organization Inspires Italian Women--Attenzione Berlusconi!
See the blog Category NorthAfrica for posts on the Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan Uprisings
Italy bears brunt of EU’s immigration crisis which puts the onus squarely on Berlusconi for the non-response of the EU.