[en] The Revolts of Migrants in Lampedusa and Pozzallo

Manhunt and Riots in Lampedusa

Riots and clashes have recently been reported on the island of Lampedusa, the southernmost outpost of Italy, which has been facing huge migratory flows from Tunisia since the beginning of the Arab Spring.
The current riots were triggered by rumours that began circulating about the upcoming repatriation of migrants, after an update in the agreements between the Italian and Tunisian governments. The agreement signed in April 2011 by Interior Minister Roberto Maroni allowed two repatriation flights per week, with a capacity of 30 people per flight. On September 19, the frequency and capacity of the repatriation flights was enlarged. This led to increasing tension in the camps in Lampedusa, where the number of detained migrants was growing by the day while no clear information was being given to them.

As a result of the mounting tension, the CPA (Centre for Reception) in Contrada Imbriacola, Lampedusa, was given to flames on September 20, 2011 by a group of Tunisian nationals. The doors of the camp were opened by the police to avoid the death of the detained migrants (“Not technically an escape”, as photo-reporter Alessio Genovese dubbed it). Many of them left the centre, gathered and moved toward the city centre, demanding to be transferred to the mainland and not to be repatriated.

Meanwhile, the racist declaration of Mayor De Rubeis unleashed riots and turmoil across the whole island. “I am standing in my office with a baseball bat”, said the mayor, before calling for a  violent reaction: “We are at war and my people are ready to take the law into their own hands”. Similar declarations have been reported from right-wing politicians nation-wide: while Senator Lorenzo Bodega called his fellows of the Northern League to a “hard and fearless struggle” (“Lotta dura senza paura”), Daniela Santanché (PDL) announced a public sit-in in solidarity with the inhabitants of Lampedusa, allegedly “under siege”.

Nobody commented on the unleashing of violence in a town that witnessed a manhunt against migrants, the mutual throwing of stones, and violent police charges.

On September 21, around 300 migrants marched in the streets of Lampedusa, demanding freedom. Nonviolent protests, with chants and banners (including one reading “Scusa Lampedusa”, “We’re sorry, Lampedusa”) were also reported. Police charges have also been reported against a group of Tunisians who were trying to blow up a gas tank in a restaurant, while clashes were ongoing between police and the few immigrants that had not left the CPA.
Furthermore, racist rumours spread, worsening the fears of the local inhabitants. After two days of clashes, their rage also turned against media reporters (a reporter and a camera operator of the Sky TV network were attacked) and activists (the French-Canadian activist Alexandre George), deemed responsible for the misrepresentation of the island before of the whole world. More throwing of stones against Tunisians was reported on September 22, 2011. Several people have been injured (as of September 21, the alleged number of victims was 11, including 4 Police officers and 7 Tunisian nationals).
As of September 22, 11 Tunisians have been arrested by the Italian police, 4 under charges of setting fire to the CPA and 7 under charges of smuggling. While 300 Tunisians have already been transferred on military flights, the remaining people are currently hosted in the non-damaged structures of the island and on three boats, until further transfer to the CIEs of Italian mainland.

Early Comments

Emergency, the well-know NGO providing healthcare in war zones such as Afghanistan and Sudan, immediately commented on the episode, claiming that the unrest in Lampedusa “is the result of a criminal policy perpetrated since many years by all Italian governments towards the migrants”. Their press release also reads:
These people do not only lack the most elementary human rights: they are also being deliberately used as scapegoats, in order to create imaginary ‘enemies’ and to nourish the warfare of the poor against the poor. The violence and riots of the past few hours in Lampedusa and Pozzallo are the inescapable consequence of a policy criminalizing the migrants and depicting them as a “security problem” or representing them in a non-human, beastly fashion. The overcrowded facilities, the lack of basic assistance, the denial of elementary rights do not only cast shame on a country that defines itself as “civilized”: they also have practical consequences, such as the harshening of violence and unrest.”

On the online magazine Peace Reporter, Angelo Miotto has claimed that the roots of this exasperation lie in the questionable way in which the Italian government has handled the landings on Lampedusa. The governmental policy is that of confining the issue of migration to the farthest outpost of Italy and watching idly, just waiting for the emergency to explode.
Caritas (a international Roman Catholic organization providing social assistance to both Italians and foreigners) has also denounced the ineffectiveness of the Italian-Tunisian agreements, and, more importantly, the dangers of such policies. Caritas’ spokesperson Oliviero Forti has declared to Adnkronos: ”To detain these people for a longtime on the island, with no other perspective than future repatriation, is not an advisable solution. It causes unavoidable tensions”. Forti had already addressed this situation earlier in 2011. In a press release given on August 9, he had he denounced the propaganda surrounding the Lampedusa emergency (“80% of migrants enter the borders via land, while the attention of the media is focusing on the disembarking via the sea”, he said) and the shortsightedness of the Italian government in handling the issue in a merely instrumental fashion. In the same press release, he had also advocated for Italy playing a different and better role than patrolling the borders of a whole continent.

Laura Boldrini, spokesperson fot UNHRC, has also commented on the latest episode in Lampedusa: “This situation could have been foreseen: indeed, we had foreseen it. We were aware of the mounting tension among immigrants. Furthermore, the centre of Contrada Imbriacola was over capacity, detaining 1,200 people in a structure designed to host a maximum of 850”. OIM (International Organization for Migration) also confirmed that the tension had been mounting for several days, due to the increasing number of detained migrants and to the lack of transfers to the mainland.

The CSPA in Pozzallo

Pozzallo is a small town near Ragusa, one of the shores where the landings have been most frequent. It hosts a CSPA (First Aid and Reception Center), which became well known in 2011, after several episodes of violence. On April 16, after some clashes with the police, 39 migrants escaped from the centre. A police officer was injured during the escape. Further violence took place on August 21, 2011, when 50 non-EU nationals were able to escape and started a guerrilla in the area.
The migrants detained in the CSPA at Pozzallo have no rights. They are illegally convicted in a facility that is not even apt for detention. Consequently, they often resist, and they do so rightly. This is what Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo, Professor of Private Law and and “International Migration and Right of Asylum Policies” at the University of Palermo, has declared to the Italian online magazine Peace Reporter. According to Prof. Vassallo, over the past few days Pozzallo has been used as a detention facility for around 50 migrants who were going to be repatriated to Tunisia. This means that CSPAs are being used as informal detention camps, where the migrants do not have any of the guarantees stated by the law.  Since no formal deportation order has been issued, even protecting the convicted migrants is a difficult task for lawyers. “It is impossible to grant legal protection without a formal restraining or detention order”, claims Vassallo.
Vassallo describes the facilities in Pozzallo as a huge hangar in the industrial area of the harbour of Pozzallo, totally inadequate for hosting people for longer than 48-96 hours. However, migrants have been detained there for as long as 3 or 4 weeks. There are many detention structures similar to that in Pozzallo. They are informal facilities near the borders, used to detain migrants that would have normally been transferred to CIEs as non-asylum seekers (most of the Tunisian nationals are, indeed, economic migrants, although some of them might qualify for asylum-seekers status).
Such centres are all close to the shores that absorb most of the landings. As a consequence, they can serve both as reception and detention facilities. Italy wanted to send a clear message to migrants, warning them that expulsion would have been effective even before stepping on Italian ground. As a matter of fact, these places are only nominally part of the Italian land: European and Italian Laws are not applied there. They are “off-shore” places, were the guarantees stated by the Italian and European legislation even for the cases subject to repatriation are no longer valid.


[en] Italy riot police clash with refugees after Lampedusa centre is burned down – Telegraph
[it] Infoaut – Tunisini a Lampedusa
[it] Infoaut -CIE brucia
[it] Peacereporter – Il centro della vergogna
[it] Peacereporter- Politica dell’esasperazione
[it] Testimonianza di alessio genovese