One could be justified for being perplexed about Pope Francis’s choice of Lampedusa, a tiny island off the coast of Sicily and Italy's -- indeed Europe's -- southernmost tip, as the destination of his very first official visit, which took place on July 8. Not a world capital, not a place in some important geopolitical region of the globe.
What is significant, even symbolic, about Lampedusa is its geography: The small island, with a population of 5,000, is positioned in the middle of the Mediterranean, making it close to the Muslim world, even closer to Tunisia than Sicily.
These two conditions explain what’s been happening to Lampedusa for over a decade, and how it could be a miniature model of the whole of Europe in the not-too-distant future.
Since at least 2001, Lampedusa has been a primary entry point into Europe for immigrants, mostly illegal from Africa. Tens of thousands have been landing here over the years, peaking during the "Arab Spring." In 2011, according to a report of the United Nation’s Human Rights Council, “[a]pproximately 60,000 irregular migrants arrived [in Italy] as part of the 2011 influx from North Africa,” mainly from Tunisia and Libya. Around 50,000 of these came to Lampedusa.
Over 10,000 received residence permits on humanitarian grounds, because the Italian government declared a state of humanitarian emergency in February 2011, subsequently extended until December 2012.
In Lampedusa, the temporary immigrant reception center where outsiders were accommodated and sent to other facilities where they could request asylum, became so overcrowded that thousands of people had to sleep outdoors and in shelters provided by the local parish and ordinary Lampedusans.
The immigrants, among whom were suspected escaped prisoners, were given temporary visas and then gradually transferred to mainland Italy and other EU countries, but there were many times when the number of newcomers was higher than that of the locals.
On those occasions, when natives were outnumbered, there were tales of local women having to be accompanied everywhere to protect them from immigrants' unwanted attention, sacked shops, apartment doors forced open, people returning home to find Tunisians sitting at the dining table eating and, after the intruders' departure, some householders even discovering faeces inside saucepans.
The island became what one newspaper called "a huge immigrant camp."
Maybe expecting to find a hotel reception and with scarcely a thought about the crisis they were creating on the small island, the illegal immigrants were complaining, as in the video below, describing what they found in Lampedusa as "shameful" and pontificating "the reception is zero" as if they were giving a hotel review on TripAdvisor:
This video confirms what Lampedusa Mayor Bernardino De Rubeis said: "We have here young Tunisians who arrogantly want everything immediately, just like criminals, ready to endanger our lives and theirs." He later added: "We're in a war, and the people will react. There are people here who want to go out into the streets armed with clubs."
The reception center was burnt down twice by the migrants, during inmate riots in February 2009 and in September 2011. The media blamed everyone for the arson: the Italian government, the provisional Tunisian government, the EU; all except the actual perpetrators. In April 2011 the illegals set fire to a guest house where they were staying at the expense of a charity organization, and threw rocks at the police.
Without the reception center, they had to be accommodated in hotels and tourist villages, which are virtually the place's only economic resources.
Aliens overwhelmed the 5,000-inhabitants island and took advantage of their hospitality, subjecting the place to unusually high levels of violence and crime. Lampedusa is a micro-representation of what will happen to Europe if both current Muslim immigration and European demographic trends continue, when the proportion of natives and migrants will be the same in Europe as it’s been in Lampedusa. The islanders’ reaction, a small civil war, could also represent a prediction of future continent-wide events.
At the height of the immigration flux, confronted with an unprecedented crisis and left to their own devices to deal with it, the people of Lampedusa used "direct action" methods.
They stopped the Italian Coast Guard patrol boat, loaded with still more "rescued" North Africans. Women occupied the harbour and docks, chained themselves, overturned wheelie bins and blocked the road. Fishermen pulled boats to the entrance to the harbour. "Nobody enters here any more," the women shouted from the quay where patriotic flags were flying. To chants of "freedom!" they raised a banner: "We are full."
The island descended into chaos. An urban riot occurred, with violent clashes between hundreds of Tunisians, police and locals. Many were injured. Three Lampedusans tried to assault their mayor, who barricaded himself in his office with a baseball bat for self-defence, while outside dozens were protesting against him and the immigrants, who wandered around the streets after having burnt down the reception center.
Islanders attacked journalists and TV crews. Tunisians and Lampedusans threw rocks at each other after illegals had threatened to explode gas cylinders near a petrol pump.
The reality is that this was a pseudo-humanitarian crisis: the illegals overwhelmingly were not refugees but economic migrants. What’s for years been called an "emergency" continues. Every day there are new arrivals.
The number of immigrants to Italy from the Mediterranean is growing. In the first 6 months of 2013, 7,800 of them arrived on Italy's southern coasts, compared to 3,500 in the first 6 months of 2012. About three quarters landed on Lampedusa from Africa, the rest disembarked on Italy's south-eastern coast in Apulia from Greece and Turkey.
The Pope, unfortunately, seems to have gone to Lampedusa in order to make everybody feel guilty for the immigrants, those lost at sea and the survivors. He condemned the “globalisation of indifference”; he talked about "the frontier of the desperate" and tragedies of people crossing the sea to seek a better life.
His sermon’s been received with mixed reactions. While Italy’s Prime Minister Enrico Letta has promised to put into practice the Holy Father’s appeal through more European co-operation (nothing new here, Italy has unsuccessfully tried for years to pass the buck to Europe), the political Right hasn’t been so keen.
Fabrizio Cicchitto, of Silvio Berlusconi’s party, PDL, pointed out that religious preaching is one thing, but a country’s management of such a complex and even intractable problem as illegal immigration -- further aggravated by the presence of criminal groups -- is another.
Erminio Boso of the secessionist, “far-Right” Northern League has been more outspoken: “I don’t care about what the Pope did. Indeed, I’m asking him to give land and money for the extra-comunitari [immigrants from outside the European Union]. I’m defending my own land.”
The Italian blog Diavoli Neri has made the interesting observation that the Vatican City State’s law declares that those found in its territory without authorization may be expelled, subject to fine or imprisonment. Further evidence, it concludes, that the Papal sermon, as so often, was beautiful and touching, but government laws are another matter.
A Northern Italian radio phone-in program aired irate messages from its audience: "I would have expected a few words [from the Pope] for those who are killed and raped by them [the immigrants]"; “As a Catholic I’m outraged. I've never heard this or another pope worry for the massacres that they commit"; "We have to prevent them from coming here. Let's shut everything up and start thinking as a macro-region.”
Much of the immigration debate in Italy centers on whether to give citizenship to Italian-born children of immigrants, a worrying prospect considering that one third of the so-called "new Italians" are Muslim.
Particularly vociferous in support of the proposal is the Minister for Integration, Congolese Cecile Kyenge, who claims that this would "acknowledge a path to integration of the parents."
Italians should look more closely at the experience of countries with a longer history of Third-World immigration, like Britain, where Muslim immigrants of second and third generation are more devout, orthodox and radicalized than their parents and grandparents. Something similar happens in Germany. Rather than a "path to integration" we witness a “path to Islamization.”
Either Kyenge doesn’t know what’s going on in the rest of Europe – where the policies she recommends are bringing to ruin entire countries – or she knows it very well, in which case she is a dangerous woman.
It’s already taking place in Italy too: among the hundreds of second- and third-generation immigrants leaving Europe to fight alongside the jihadist rebels in Syria there are 45-50 who lived in Italy.
In conclusion, the lesson from the Lampedusa experience is that there’s a limit to what indigenous populations can take. While it’s true that the most common reaction of native Europeans to Third-World non-military invasion so far has been leaving the city or country where this colonization occurs, it may not stay like this forever. There could sooner or later be a breaking point.
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