Lampedusa is the southernmost island of Sicily, Italy and is the largest in the Pelagie group of Islands. The island is the largest in the group. It is situated in the Mediterranean Sea and is 3 kilometres wide by 12 kilometres long. The island is remote. Historically many people have been to the island and influenced it including the Romans, Arabs and Greeks. The main reason for the island’s diverse history is its very remoteness and its geographical position in the Mediterranean Sea. It is the nearest European island to North Africa with Tunisia being around 113 kilometres away. Sicily is in fact much further away than Africa (at around 176 kilometres to the north east). Main industries include agriculture, tourism and fishing.
The island has recently attracted attention for the increased use of it as a destination for migrants from North Africa and the Middle East into Europe. Its position as the nearest European land to Africa makes it attractive for a shorter journey over the sea. The migration to here has been present for the last two decades. Increasingly there are more people coming from Eritrea and Ethiopia in addition to countries that are closer to the island.
There have been several boats that have capsized trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Libya and other countries. In October 2013 around 300 migrants drowned when a boat capsized near the island. Some of the migrants are refugees from the conflict zones of Syria and the Middle East. Others are being brought to the island in boats that have been organised by people traffickers. The result has been many more people attempting to come to the island: some of the migrants found on boats are often severely dehydrated or traumatised from the trip. Others sometimes do not make it as their boats sink or have taken on water.
In 2014 around 36,000 migrants have made it to Italy after the crossing from North Africa. This represents an eight hundred per cent increase over the same period last year, according to Frontex, the European Union (EU) border agency. The problem has intensified and Italy’s border control has struggled this year. The Italian border agency has been replaced with the European border agency earlier in November. This is because when a member state, of the EU, becomes overwhelmed and needs support they turn to Frontex. The European Union agency is designed as an instrument for border control, not migration policy. This fact has created political debates that have intensified as a result of the “crisis” in the increasing number of migrants.
The multinational Frontex task force now patrol waters that were monitored by Italy. On the island itself many boats that have been used to transport people are stored on the shoreline as a boat grave yard. This is a reminder to visitors of the island’s place in the wider geo-political region. It also highlights some desperate measures that people are taking to escape from conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. Whether or not such an increase of numbers of migrants coming to a small island is sustainable remains to be seen.
For a detailed discussion of migration and refugees into Europe see this open society foundation article. It has references to Lampedusa.