Paradoxes of “Fortress Europe” in a nutshell: Lampedusa

CC-BY Luca Siragusa - places are lastingly linked with experience of human tragedy. As much as Chernobyl stands for the ultimately uncontrollable risk of nuclear technology and Dhaka recalls the precarious working conditions under globalized production regimes, the island of Lampedusa has become tragically emblematic of the paradoxes of migratory realities and policies in Europe. Until today, Lampedusa has quite ambivalent connotations: Despite the growing attention paid to the destiny of boat people arriving at European shores, the little island of only 20 square kilometres is still known as a vacation paradise whose southern beach was recently elected among the world’s best beaches.

While intuitively, the continuous shipwrecks leave oneself speechless, our aim during the visit to Lampedusa will be to inquire into the complex institutional framework that leads to a perpetuation of the status quo. In doing so, it becomes clear that quite a few common narratives regarding the place are overly simplified. It neither comes down solely to the infamous practices of migrant smugglers, nor to autonomous self-endangerment, nor to simple failure of Italian authorities to assure effective rescue at sea. Rather, the current deadlock is created by factors that require a more holistic response than the cycles of political attention seem to allow right now.

The recommendations issued two years ago by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe indicate how aspects of Italian migration politics are intertwined with the European Dublin-system and matters of international law of the sea. At the European level, the Dublin regulations, which implement a system placing heavy burden on frontline states, ought to be amended following an idea of responsibility sharing. However, factors peculiar to maritime migration deserve similar attention: How can European states assume a subsidiary responsibility of search and rescue in the Mediterranean when primary bearers of responsibility (i.e. Libya) fail to act? How can commercial vessels be encouraged to assist without hesitation and pursuant to their obligations under international maritime law? Are codes of conduct of private shipowners a feasible way to formulate obligations more precisely? What can be done to prevent overloaded and unseaworthy vessels from being used regularly in organized smuggling?

During our days in Lampedusa, we plan to get into contact with various actors concerned and get a maximum of views on the questions raised. Talks and visits will include representatives of the townhall, the Lampedusa coast guard, the centro di prima accoglienza as well as the cemetery of boats.

Besides this, we also hope to experience the seemingly unique spirit of the island. In their every-day life, local inhabitants have found a modus operandi of great solidarity which led Italian journalist Fabrizio Gatti to suggest that “Lampedusa” was a more worthy laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize than the EU.

We are curious to share our impressions on this in the weeks to come!