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  1. Italy's Horrific Migration Policies Exacerbate Lampedusa's Urgent Situation

    Photo Essay by Fellipe Lopes

  2. With an anti-migration speech, the Italian government implores the European community for aid following a historic week at Lampedusa in southern Italy. Simultaneously, thousands continue to be humiliated and criminalized due to the established anti-migration policies.

    [Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. By Shutterstock.]

  3. Lampedusa has always been a transition point for travelers. In the last 13 years, tragedy has befallen this Italian island. Located in the center of the Mediterranean Sea closest to the North African coast, Lampedusa saw a wave of survivors seeking refuge after days of rough seafaring. The European authorities' and the Italian government's inefficiency, as well as their lack of planning created a challenging environment for thousands arriving there.

    [Lampedusa island. By Shutterstock.]

  4. Many seek safety in Europe and claiming asylum is a universal right, guaranteed in international conventions to which European countries are signatories. Several authorities call this a “refugee crisis” or “migration crisis,” though this is incorrect. This should be dubbed a “policy crisis” due to the lack of action by governments in protecting the human right of claiming asylum.

    [A boat traveling the Mediterranean. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  5. The EU seeks to militarize Europe's borders, which would criminalize migrants and organizations that provide search and rescue services. Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini stated that these refugees arriving at Lampedusa are an “act of war,” which is false. European colonization caused much of Africa's instability, and now the countries responsible won't welcome and protect these people.

    [A boat traveling the Mediterranean. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  6. On Tuesday, September 12, the situation in Lampedusa escalated tremendously with over 6000 refugees arriving in just 24 hours. This has left the island at its breaking point with food, water and shelter not being provided by local authorities. The camp has lost control and many people were left on the streets with their basic needs going unmet.

    [A boat arriving in Lampedusa. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  7. Jack (fake name) is a refugee from Senegal. He was rescued by Italian authorities after three days lost at sea. He was desperate to find food and shelter before his transfer to mainland Italy. After months of journeying to escape poverty and persecution, he longs to land in a secure European country where he can work to provide for his baby.

    [Jack (fake name) cradles his child. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  8. The migrants, mainly from Gambia, Senegal, Tunisia and Sudan, felt that the only way to find food and water was to walk to the town center and ask for anything they could get. The local community showed solidarity with the refugees and formed a non-governmental organization (NGO) to help.

    [The reception center outside the town of Lampedusa. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  9. The NGO distributed food, water and clothes in front of the town church. Several volunteers were there day and night to talk to the migrants. No violence was recorded, making it clear that this anti-migratory discourse does not apply to all of Italy.

    [Food distribution at the main plaza is organized by local volunteers and NGOs. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  10. James (fake name) and 43 other people were adrift in the Mediterranean for more than four days. Despite the dreadful situation, he remained hopeful and believed someone would come to rescue them. “Hope is the last one to die,” he told me.

    [James (fake name) from Gambia. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  11. Local health care workers identified the maladies caused by the rough voyage. During the crossing, many people are in contact with boat fuel, which causes skin burns. Exposure to the sun for long periods causes sunburns and dehydration, the latter of which can cause headaches and diarrhea. The poorly-constructed boats have sharp edges, cutting wounds in anyone who touches them.

    [A makeshift medical area is set up outside the camp. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  12. There were an alarming number of children, pregnant women and unaccompanied minors that were left on the streets. This group needed special care due to their vulnerabilities, but the system that was supposed to protect them lost control of the situation. It was clear that the presence of military and police forces was greater than that of social and humanitarian professionals.

    [A young patient lies in a makeshift area outside the camp. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  13. In the conversations I had with several migrants, it was clear that being in Lampedusa was just a transition point. They were looking to reach a safe country elsewhere in Europe, which was not Italy.

    [Food distribution at the main plaza is organized by local volunteers and NGOs. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  14. “In a perfect world, I would have liked to have had the opportunity to arrive in Europe safely and legally, and not take an imminent risk to my life on crossing the Mediterranean. But I'm very grateful to the people on this island. They gave me food and water and showed me respect,” a Gambian migrant told me.

    [Food distribution at the main plaza is organized by local volunteers and NGOs. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  15. Unfortunately, the situation on the ocean is also dismal. In documentation work I did with an NGO, I saw several boats lost at sea. The technical team reported them to competent authorities. But the Italian government targets NGOs specializing in search and rescue, and has set several bureaucratic barriers. Thus, they cannot develop their roles.

    [An overcrowded boat lost while on its way to Italy. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  16. We cannot forget that million-euro agreements were made in the past to stop the arrival of migrants in European territory. The Turkey deal, the equipment support for Libyan maritime forces and now the Tunisia deal, have only led to more violence and more deaths in the Mediterranean.

    [The Libyan coast guard after carrying a group of migrants back to Libya. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  17. The day before the visit from the European Delegation, there was a mass transfer of people from Lampedusa to mainland Italy in order to clear the streets. This got the remaining migrants out of public view. The island was given a makeover, with all evidence of the tragic scenes that had happened just days before, erased.

    [Migrants being transferred to mainland Italy. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  18. On Sunday, September 17, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni visited Lampedusa. They “assess[ed] the situation” and announced a 10-point plan to manage new arrivals. Improvements to the overall system, rescue efforts and humane reception went undiscussed.

    [European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni speak at Lampedusa. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  19. Von der Leyen said, “We will decide who comes to the European Union and under what circumstances...” Providing “legal pathways” supposedly is her goal, but years have passed with nothing to show. Conversely, new policies prevent migrants from claiming asylum in Europe. The EU funds and equips North African countries, which increases their instability and empowers militias operating there.

    [European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni speak at Lampedusa. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  20. A Sudan war refugee told me, “I was arrested and tortured in Libya. After a long wait, I was released. Afraid of being arrested again, I went to Tunisia. After crossing the desert and paying several fines to protect my life, I had to pay three thousand euros to have a place on a boat that had more than 60 people and was built for a maximum of 30.”

    [An overcrowded boat lost while on its way to Italy. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  21. The Mediterranean is the world's deadliest sea route. In 2023, 2,375 travelers were registered as dead or missing, with undetected shipwrecks likely increasing the real figure. The migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, told me they would “rather die in the sea than stay in Tunisia.” People must embark on this dangerous crossing because they need to arrive in a safe country before they can claim asylum — their human right.

    [A refugee enduring the crisis. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  22. This group that came from Tunisia said, “You have to live there to understand how much more difficult life gets every day.” Since Tunisian President Kais Saied took the national administration, “criticizing the government means putting yourself at risk.” They stayed for two nights, sleeping outside the camp as beds were no longer provided.

    [A group from Tunisia standing outside the camp. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  23. How can these people claim asylum if they have to enter Europe illegally, which criminalizes them? This issue is political, not practical. Ukrainians fleeing Russian threats are welcomed; the system's flawed but works. Ukrainians can access the job market, studies and health care, and continue their lives. Yet African and Middle Eastern refugees face discrimination. Solidarity and respect must be equal for all.

    [The main gate of the camp. By Fellipe Lopes.]

  24. Credits Text by Fellipe Lopes.
    Photographs by Fellipe Lopes and Shutterstock.
    Edited by Lee Thompson-Kolar.
    Produced by Lokendra Singh.