While I was in London, Dymphna covered a major news story from Lampedusa about a deliberately set fire at the holding center on the island. The blaze was started by some of the dissatisfied detainees, who were then able to escape and have the run of the island.
Additional articles about the Mediterranean refugee crisis came in while I was gone. The most significant item — given that I have to main the temperature shown on the Cultural Enrichment Thermometer in the above graphic — concerned a revised figure for Mediterranean landings in Italy since the beginning of the year. The Italian government has access to more complete data than I can acquire by culling news stories, and on September 28 it released a year-to-date total of 60,656 illegal immigrants arriving on the entire coastline. Of those, more than 51,000 landed on the islands off Tunisia, mainly Lampedusa.
I’ve added 75 more who arrived since the 28th to bring the total to 60,731. This will be my new baseline, and it made the enrichment thermometer jump upwards by 5,000 at one go.
Here’s the report from ANSAmed:
60,000 Land in 2011, 51,000 on Pelagie Islands
(ANSAmed) — Rome, September 28 — A total of 51,596 non-EU immigrants have arrived on the Pelagie Islands since the start of the year (nearly all on Lampedusa) on a total of 60,656 migrants who landed on the Italian coasts in 2011 so far. This announcement was made by Interior Affairs Undersecretary Sonia Viale during a Chamber hearing.
Viale explained that the situation is “an emergency that should not be dealt with on national level alone, since the crisis concerns the entire Mediterranean area and therefore Europe. All member States must help the countries that face particular migration pressure. Immigration is a European challenge and requires a European response, but this response is late to arrive.”
75 new migrants arrived at Porto Empedocle on Sicily four days later. Note that they weren’t brought to Lampedusa, due to the lack of facilities there after the burning of holding center:
75 Tunisian Migrants Escorted to Porto Empedocle
(AGI) Agrigento — According to Coast Guard sources, 75 Tunisian migrants landed in Porto Empedocle at about 5:30. They arrived on a motor boat escorted by Coast Guard patrol boats. This is the first landing after the authorities decided to close the harbor of Lampedusa to migrant arrivals, in view of the local holding center recent devastation.
The cultural enrichment of their island has not gone down well with Lampedusa’s permanent residents. After the fire at the holding center, the migrants were relocated to other less secure facilities until they could be shipped off the island. The increased interaction with the locals caused a violent reaction against the refugees:
Lampedusa Islanders Throw Stones at Tunisians, Some Hurt
(AGI) Lampedusa — Tension soared in Lampedusa after clashes this morning between a number of islanders and migrants. The migrants are staying at the port or inside the local stadium.
Stones were thrown and a number of Tunisians were injured.
Police in riot gear separated the islanders and immigrants.
The enrichers also clashed with the police, and assaulted a Sky News reporter:
Migrants: Police Clash on Tiny Island After Detention Centre Burned
Lampedusa, 21 Sept. (AKI) — Migrants and police clashed on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa Wednesday as dozens of people held in a detention centre on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa tried to escape.
At least one migrant threatened to detonate gas canisters he stole from a restaurant, Sky’s Italian satellite news channel reported.
Police used nightsticks in a fruitless effort to keep dozens of migrants from escaping from the centre by jumping and lowering themselves over a three-metre wall.
News reports said many of the 1,300 Tunisians migrants held in a facility designed for around 800 people rioted Tuesday, setting the building on fire after learning of Italy’s plan for a fresh round of repatriations. A reporter working with Sky news was reportedly assaulted during the riot.
Italy overnight relocated 200 of the migrants by military helicopter off the island that is closer to Tunisia than Sicily, while the rest of the detainees were relocated to other centres used to accommodate the tens-of- thousands of migrants that have made the trip to Italy from Northern African this year.
The mayor of Lampedusa was forthright in his description of what was happening:
Lampedusa mayor Bernardino De Rubeis on Tuesday talked about “a scene of war in which the Lampedusians are ready to act,” while his tone changed little early Wednesday when he pleaded for the Italian government to create order.
“The citizens of my island have acted and I ask that the Tunisians disappear from view,” he said as dozens of locals gathered to ask authorities to keep the migrants off the streets.
A more detailed account was published in ANSAmed:
Lampedusa: Clashes, Dozens Injured
(ANSAmed) — Lampedusa (Agrigento), September 21 — Tens of people are thought to have been injured in clashes in Lampedusa involving hundreds of demonstrating Tunisians. Police forces charged at the protesters while a group of Lampedusa inhabitants protested against the presence of immigrants on the island. Two policemen, one member of the Financial Police (Guardia di Finanza) and approximately ten immigrants with bruises and scratches were treated in the island’s medical centre. One immigrant is in a semi-comatose state; the head of medical assistance services, Pietro Bartolo, demanded the man’s immediate transfer to Palermo via air ambulance.
Some Lampedusa residents believed the mayor was being too soft on the immigrants, and he was forced to seek police protection:
It’s a War, Mayor of Lampedusa — “I want to say this to humanitarian associations: don’t you dare accuse the inhabitants of Lampedusa of racism, because they have done their utmost. It’s a war, some people have decided to take the law into their own hands”. This was the statement of Dino De Rubeis, Mayor of Lampedusa , who had to barricade himself in his office while dozens of demonstrators were protesting against Tunisian immigrants in front of the town hall.
The mayor of Lampedusa, Dino De Rubeis, has barricaded himself in his office and is guarded by three policemen after three inhabitants of Lampedusa tried to assault him this morning, accusing him of taking too soft an approach towards immigration.
De Rubeis keeps a baseball bat in one of the drawers of his office. “I must defend myself and I am ready to use this bat, you can write this”, De Rubeis stated. “This is a war scenario, he added, the State must send helicopters and ships to transfer Tunisians who roam the island after setting the reception centre on fire yesterday”. Dozens of people are in front of the town hall, some protesting against the mayor, others yelling at immigrants.
The local inhabitants were also unhappy with the media:
The Inhabitants of Lampedusa to Journalists: “Go Away”. It’s nearly “journalist-hunting” in Lampedusa. Near a petrol station where anti-riot police squads charged at some Tunisians threatening to burst some gas tanks, people yelled at some ANSA and Adnkronos reporters and RAI cameraman Marco Sacchi. A group of approximately 30 people from Lampedusa shouted threats: “The sooner you go home, the better for you”. Reporters were surrounded and forced to leave. “We don’t want you here, just leave”, the group cried.
Next came the removal of the refugees from the island:
Transfer of Tunisians From Lampedusa Started — The first transfers of immigrants from Lampedusa have started. Transfer was provided after last night’s arson attacks, which destroyed the reception centre of Contrada Imbriacola yesterday afternoon.
Approximately 200 Tunisians were put on two Military Air Force C130 planes and flown to the Sigonella base, near Catania. More than a thousand migrants who stayed on the island, spent the night outdoors, in the town’s stadium. Only about a hundred immigrants, including approximately twenty women, stayed in the reception centre, even though the building is unfit for use: the reception centres premises have been destroyed by fire. Significant damage was caused to the structure, as the Head of the Reception Centre, Cono Galipò, confirmed. Galipò has no doubt that this was an arson attack, as an inspection had taken place a short time earlier. Tension among Tunisians had been mounting in the last few days, after the government had confirmed its “hard-line approach” to repatriation. The Public Prosecutor’s Office of Agrigento opened an investigation against persons unknown and will have to identify those who set fire to the centre and verify who can be charged. Yesterday the Mayor of Lampedusa Bernardino De Rubeis made a new appeal to Prime Minister Berlusconi and Minister Maroni, asking them to transfer immediately all immigrants still on the island.
One Thousand Tunisians in Lampedusa Other Flights Today — Approximately one thousand (precisely 1040) Tunisians are still in Lampedusa after a fire nearly destroyed the reception centre in Contrada Imbriacola. During the night approximately one hundred immigrants were transferred to the Sigonella base, on board two Air Force C130 planes. The air bridge was provided by the President of the Republic in order to speed up repatriation: two further flights are scheduled for today.
Currently, approximately 400 Tunisians are inside the island’s stadium, where they spent the night; another 200 Tunisians were gathered near the port. In Lampedusa, in spite of the tension and the protests, all business and trade activities are going on as usual. Even celebrations for Madonna del Porto, the patron of the town, went on without interruptions: according to tradition, the town band played in the streets of the town at dawn.
Some of the Tunisian rioters were held in jail:
Migrants’ Revolt in Lampedusa, Tunisians in Jail
(AGI) Agrigento — The Tunisians arrested yesterday after the Lampedusa revolt have been transferred to the Petrusa Jail in Agrigento. Tuesday revolt culminated with the arson of the Lampedusa holding center. That was the first act of an episode of urban guerrilla which involved the local inhabitants as well. The disorders produced eleven injured people, one of whom, a Tunisian, is in serious conditions at the Palermo hospital where he was airlifted. The arrested parties are accused of arson, damages and resisting arrest.
The relocations to Sicily and the mainland continued:
500 Migrants Taken Away, Other 500 Today
(AGI) Agrigento — About 500 migrants have been taken away from Lampedusa, late yesterday evening and early this morning. They have been flown to infrastructures in Sicily and in Southern Italy. There were 1,040 migrants left after yesterday’s first flights. Agrigento Chief of Police, Giuseppe Bisogno reported to Agi that in the upcoming hours the remaining 500 will leave the island and will be flown to the same infrastructures.
By September 22 the holding center had been emptied, and some of the Tunisians had been repatriated:
Lampedusa:320 Migrants on the Island, Centre Empty by Tonight
(ANSAmed) — Lampedusa (Agrigento), September 22 — There are a total of 320 migrants currently present on the island of Lampedusa, including 140 minors who are at the Loran Station. There are 270 Tunisians still at the reception centre. “By tonight,” said Agrigento Chief of Police, Giuseppe Bisogno, “the Imbriacola Centre will be emptied, also due to the safety of the facilities following the fires set to several structures.” Ten flights are scheduled today to transport the Tunisians who are still at the reception centre on Lampedusa, with 8 military and 2 commercial flights. The operation also involves 72 migrants who landed on Linosa and were transferred to Lampedusa today, as well as 90 minors and 6 families staying at the Cala Creta accommodation facilities. All of the flights, the Hercules military planes and the two Mistral flights, are leaving from the Palermo Airport. The first took off this morning at 9am. The flights are arriving on Lampedusa, the immigrants are boarding the planes and are being transferred to Palermo. According to reports, the two Mistral flights will bring the migrants back to Tunis after the stopover in Palermo. The immigrants who will not be immediately repatriated by plane will be transferred to two ships that are already at the port in the Sicilian capital, the Moby Fantasy and GNV’s ‘Audacia’. These two ferry boats have been used in recent months to transport immigrants to other reception centres in other parts of Italy.
Four culture enrichers believed to be the arsonists were taken into custody, along with some human traffickers and other miscreants:
Lampedusa: 4 in Custody for Reception Centre Fire
(ANSAmed) — Lampedusa (Agrigento), September 22 — Four migrants believed to have started the fire that damaged the reception centre in Lampedusa two days ago, an action which led to the ensuing clashes on the island, were taken into custody by police after an order was issued by the Agrigento Prosecutor’s Office. During the operation, officials from police headquarters also took another 7 individuals into custody: 4 alleged human traffickers responsible for one of the arrivals on Lampedusa in recent days and 3 migrants who returned to Italy after previously being deported. The individuals arrested for the fire are 32-year-old Tunisian, Hamrouni Faysal, who arrived on Lampedusa on September 18, 29-year-old Tunisian, Ghammouri Mohamed, who arrived on the island on September 18, 40-year-old Saleh Mohamed, who also arrived on September 18 and 27-year-old Tunisian, Fazzani Bilal, who arrived on September 15. The migrants had communicated their identities to police when they arrived on Lampedusa. “According to what has been reconstructed,” Agrigento police sources said, “based on testimony from several immigrants present in the centre who provided useful information for the investigation, the fire was set by using pillows and mattresses to make the structure unfit for use in order to prevent repatriations to Tunisia. Making the centre unfit for use would make it necessary for the immigrants to temporarily stay in the reception centre on the mainland, giving them a greater chance to escape.”
On Friday the Italian government reported that 604 recent arrivals from Tunisia had been repatriated:
Interior Ministry Reports Repatriation of 604 Tunisians
(AGI) Rome — The Interior Ministry reported that 604 Tunisian migrants who landed in Lampedusa in recent days, have been sent home.
The above item does not make it clear whether the 604 arrived before or after the Interior Ministry issued its revised year-to-date figure, so I have not added them into the running total used for these posts.
Hat tips: C. Cantoni and Insubria.
For previous posts about the Mediterranean refugee crisis, see The Camp of the Saints Archive.