Mon. May 27th, 2024

Lampedusa aid workers condemn UK’s Rwanda plan after Cleverly visit

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Lampedusa aid workers condemn UK’s Rwanda plan after Cleverly visit

A discarded migrant vessel marked with the date on which it arrived on a beach in Lampedusa.
A discarded migrant vessel marked with the date on which it arrived on a beach in Lampedusa.

Aid workers on the Italian island of Lampedusa, a significant landing point for asylum seekers in Europe, are expressing strong criticism of Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda deportation plan as they brace for another challenging summer of arrivals and tragedies at sea.

 UK-Rwanda migrant
UK-Rwanda migrant

They are urging European governments to open more safe routes for refugees if they genuinely want to address the issue of migrant arrivals by sea.

These sentiments come in response to a brief visit to Lampedusa by James Cleverly, the home secretary, which coincided with the day the prime minister’s Rwanda deportation bill was approved by royal assent.

 UK-Rwanda migrant

Lampedusa, with its population of about 6,000, experienced an estimated 110,000 arrivals last year, while the Mediterranean witnessed 3,105 deaths. Rescue boats operated by charities and the Italian coastguard are gearing up in the main harbor for another challenging summer of crossings from Tunisia, with preparations including the distribution of toddlers’ life jackets and the provision of body bags for victims of drownings.

Austin Cooper, a mediator and care coordinator for the rescue charity Sea Watch, who is preparing a vessel for summer operations, questioned Cleverly’s motives for the brief visit. He suggested that it might have been intended as a photo opportunity on the same day the UK’s flagship policy was signed into law. Cooper expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of the Rwanda plan, stating that it won’t impact their operations on Lampedusa and may even serve to strengthen their resolve.

 UK-Rwanda migrant
UK-Rwanda migrant

Cooper, a UK-born individual of Irish descent, highlighted a concerning trend: while there has been a decrease in arrivals from Tunisia this year, there has been a simultaneous increase in fatalities. He emphasized the complexity of factors influencing people’s decisions to embark on perilous sea journeys and the obstacles they face in doing so. Cooper pointed out challenges such as adverse weather conditions, the lack of seaworthy vessels for crossings, and the impact of EU policies aimed at disrupting migratory routes.

He suggested that the EU’s strategy of providing support to authoritarian governments in North Africa may be contributing to the reduction in migrant movement. However, he also acknowledged the dangers posed by the unseaworthy boats often used by migrants.

Another worker from an international NGO, who preferred to remain anonymous, criticized Cleverly’s understanding of Lampedusa’s history and its relationship with migrants. They emphasized that migration is ingrained in Lampedusa’s heritage, and the island has traditionally welcomed migrants. Sending them back to Africa was deemed unfair and unjust.

Cleverly’s visit to the island, which included a brief tour of a police boat and empty detention facilities, conveyed a clear message: both Italy and the UK are desirable destinations for migrants, and innovative policies are being developed to deter migrant arrivals.

The island of Lampedusa serves as a poignant reminder of the ongoing migration crisis, with symbols of migration scattered throughout its landscape. Cleverly witnessed the remnants of migrant boats, either piled up in yards or left to decay in ports. A mural titled “Rise Up Together” overlooks the island’s main marina, depicting two embracing women: a native of Lampedusa and a newly arrived migrant adorned in a lifejacket.

During the summer months, Lampedusa experiences an influx of both migrants seeking refuge in Europe and holidaymakers from the Italian mainland and Sicily. However, the increased focus on the island as a migrant entry point prompted the Italian government to tighten security measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to attempts to render migrants invisible, according to charity workers.

Emma Conti, a humanitarian worker with Mediterranean Hope, an aid organization established by Protestant churches in Italy, highlighted the changing dynamics on the island. She noted that migrants and locals used to mingle freely, but now, interactions are limited, with one of the few shared spaces being the cemetery during burial ceremonies for deceased migrants.

Conti emphasized the harshening treatment of immigrants across Europe, attributing the rising numbers of arrivals to the lack of safe and legal routes into the continent. She criticized governmental policies, both in Italy and across Europe, for failing to address the root causes of migration and for not providing adequate alternatives to risky sea crossings.

In her view, preventing deaths at sea requires governments to offer viable alternatives for migrants, as current policies only exacerbate the crisis without effectively addressing its underlying causes. Conti concluded that while governments may express condemnation for migrant deaths, their actions do not align with sufficient efforts to prevent such tragedies.

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