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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Sea of Humanity Nobody Wants

The tiny island of Lampedusa just south of Sicily has been overwhelmed by people arriving by fishing boat and other small craft from Libya and Tunisia. Almost 19,000 migrants have arrived since January and 3,000 arrived in just three days with thousands more on their way.

The population of the peaceful island is around 5,300 and the main industry is fishing and tourism. The locals feel so helpless and angry, they have tried to blockade the harbour to keep more people from coming ashore. A sign which read "Enough, we are full' was held up by desperate local protesters.

A former mayor of the island said "If the ships promised by the government don't come tomorrow, there will be a total shut down and no one will be able to eat on the island, including the immigrants who arrived last night". There are now thousands of North African men living in tents on the hillsides, waiting to be taken to the mainland.

So far there has been no violence but it was reported that the Tunisians are starting to go into people's houses and threatening them for food. On Monday the Interior Ministry promised to send six large navy transport vessels to clear all the migrants from the island and take them to other parts of Italy.

Silvio Berlusconi has pledged more than 200 million euros in aid and credit lines to Tunisia and demanded that European Union partners contribute a solution, especially since many of the migrants want to go to other countries in Europe, especially France.

Most of the immigrants from Tunisia are young men looking for work in Europe. Hundreds of migrants have been moved to Mineo on the Sicilian mainland or to Manduria near Taranto on the heel of Italy where a tent city is being completed today. But many have escaped over the fences surrounding the camp and run away, only to be caught by police and brought back. And every day they just keep coming.