At first glance Palermo appears dark and unwelcoming. By day the Sicilian city is full of Italians bustling about their business, past the migrants selling tat on street corners, a stark reminder of not just of the country’s clandestine migrant population. At night women traf¬ficked from sub-Saharan Africa live out their night¬mares, while the city looks the other way.
Europe is El Dorado for clandestine migrants arriving from Africa. Many survive journeys spanning thousands of miles across the harshest terrain, sustained by the vision of a golden continent of freedom and work. But for those who step off the ferry in Sicily, just 145km from the continent they have left behind, how long does Europe, the gilded continent, retain its’ shine?
Before the Arab Spring, before the Tunisian people rose up in anger, Lampedusa was silent. The stream of sub-Saharan African refugees and migrants who once used the sleepy island as a port of entry to Europe have disappeared. For the Italian island’s 6,000 inhabitants, visitors are once again moneyed tourists and not destitute explorers.
Jan/Feb 2011 In 2008 nearly 40,000 migrants entered Europe through Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island in the Mediterranean with a population of 6,000. During this period people migrating from all over Africa chose to enter Europe via Italian and Spanish islands in the Mediterranean, despite the deaths at sea of the thousands who had come before them. At this time Lampedusa had also gained a reputation for its overcrowded reception centres – in one centre 1,800 people shared a space meant for 850 – and chaotic immigration administration. Like several other European countries, Italy’s panicked reaction to irregular migration often…