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Migrants entering the EU. Photo supplied

Lampedusa’s migrant centres are collapsing

The first citizen of Lampedusa, Totò Martello, has raised the alarm: "The reception center receives more than twice its capacity, the island cannot be abandoned."

Published: September 4, 2019, 8:03 am

    Not only migrants arriving from NGO ships, but also those arriving from autonomous landings, are flooding Lampedusa. Even in the quieter months the arrivals have never stopped with vessels and rafts coming from Africa.

    The island is falling back into the nightmare of its worst days during the mass migration crisis. It is once again becoming the epicenter of disputes over immigration and the resumption of NGO activities on the one hand, as well as so-called ghost landings on the other, local administrators have warned.

    Mayor Totò Martello, in a note, asked for help from national institutions: “After the recent landings in Lampedusa, in the Reception Center there are now around 240 people, more than double those that can be hosted.” The statement of the mayor was circulated by ItalPress. “I therefore ask the institutions that manage it to provide for the transfer of surplus guests as soon as possible.”

    His sentiment is shared by many of his fellow citizens, who now fear a return to the worst days. The echoes of the current political impasse have also been felt here. The islanders do not take kindly to an executive who wants to implement a “softer” line on the immigration issue.

    In May, on the occasion of the European elections, the League was the largest party, and Minister Matteo Salvini was in fact reproached for not having been able to stop the ghost landings altogether, although the Lampedusans showed a general appreciation for his approach which led to an overall 80 percent drop in illegal landings.

    There is therefore some skepticism expressed about the possibility of a new Giallorossi or yellow-red government.

    The scheduled ferry to Porto Empedocle these days transports dozens of migrants from the largest island of Pelagie to Sicily. The relief machine is also at work in terms of logistics: Coast Guard, Guardia di Finanza and the Questura of Agrigento have all managed, from August onwards, day after day, the transfers, landings and movements of migrants from one port to another and onto the various welcome centers on the island.

    The impression, however, is that the resumption of migrant flows need even more personnel to process the landings.

    Mayor Martello also complained of a sense of being isolated. Once again Lampedusa feels like a small rock burdened with both national and international problems: “Lampedusa cannot bear the weight of landings alone,” he said, adding that ignoring the problem “will create the risk of new tensions in our community”.

    Martello, who defeated Giusy Nicolini in 2016, has always been considered a man of the left. In his statements however, he broadly represents the sentiments of his fellow citizens.

    Certainly what happens on the island has always been a thermometer of the situation that, in general, concerns immigration. If the pressure increases on Lampedusa, it means that the situation will soon degenerate.

    The numbers compared to 2017 may still be lower, but the fact that the reception centers of the island are once again overcrowded, is an early warning. Transfers with the available scheduled ferries are not enough, nor are transfers at a rate of about 60 per day to Sicily and, at the same time, air bridges are invoked again to bring the situation back to normal.

    What has emerged from Lampedusa is the clear sign of concern, especially the ghost landings of rafts arriving from Tunisia. And the worsening weather conditions may last for the rest of September and beyond.

    Meanwhile, an investigative report highlighted the possible cases in which some NGOs provided false and incorrect diagnoses to the doctors who operate in Lampedusa.

    In recent days several migrants were allowed to go on land from the ship operated by the Italian NGO Mediterranea Saving Humans.

    Out of 98 people rescued from the Ionian Sea, 64 were said to be in urgent need of care. In the following days, another three were released, and the remaining 31 were all transferred to a Coast Guard patrol boat to be transferred to Lampedusa. The reason: health problems.

    A few days before, a very similar situation occured on the Open Arms, the ship of the homonymous Spanish NGO. After the first transshipments of some migrants for “health reasons”, the vessel was seized by the Agrigento prosecutor’s office based on the testimonies collected that highlighted the “dangerous” situation inside the ship.

    Therefore in both cases “health reasons” appear to be decisive for the transfer of migrants. But going through the medical reports collected in the polyclinic of the largest island of the Pelagie, some discordant diagnoses were noted.

    The urgencies reported by the NGO were exposed as fake. At least three “very sick” patients were seen walking to a bus and heading towards the local hotspot in the Imbriacola district.

    “How are the boys?” one reporter from the television programme Quarta Repubblica asked. The doctor’s reply was: “Well, they are brought to the welcome center now”. The same question was asked in English directly to one of the migrants, who also responded to being well.

    “They look great, she saw it too,” a woman from the health staff admitted in front of the cameras. Another eyewitness spoke of a case involving a girl who had disembarked from another NGO vessel, either the Sea Watch 3 or the Open Arms.

    “Once they had a girl disembarked because the ship’s doctor had made a diagnosis of metrorrhagia. Metrorragia means losing blood. They brought the girl here, but her blood pressure was fine, nothing in particular, she had a normal reading.​​”

    The final report, later shown to the cameras, contradicted the first diagnosis: “No traces of blood, no health emergency in progress”. Clearly, either the one written by the doctor on board the NGO ship or that of the doctor on duty at the Lampedusa clinic, is false.

    According to the witness heard by the reporter, a volunteer from the Order of Malta allegedly made the diagnosis on board. “There is no mistake here, there is willful misconduct,” the witness said. But a spokesperson from the headquarters of the Order of Malta’s volunteers would not comment.

    Certainly, among those working in the Lampedusa health center, there is a strong suspicion that the NGO’s diagnoses were made so as to favor the landing of migrants, even in non-emergency situations.

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