meanwhile in lampedusa

report on the situation on the italian island of lampedusa in late august 2005

01.Sep.05 - Lampedusa is a small place and even smaller is the location in which arrivals, detention and deportation takes place. If one stands in the port, all of these happen nearly in font of your eyes. On one side of the port, there are the boats of Guardia di finanza as well as rather small wooden boats used for transportation of migrants (I could see 3 of them at that time, all rather small and one used for transportation of 150 people). The boats arrive during the night as well as during the days. Once they are individuated, the boats are taken to the port. Then the boats are emptied and migrants are lined up i.e. seated on the nearby pier. From there, migrants are taken with small buses to the detention centre. The detention centre is at the airport, only a couple of minute drive from the port. Actually, it is situated on the small hill exactly on the opposite side of where the boats of Guardia di finanza are and where line-ups take place. At this point men are separated from women and children, and the latter are taken elsewhere and not in the Lampedusa airport camp.

Migrants, all men, stay in the detention centre for about 15-20 days usual but there is no rule to it. The length of the stay depends on the number of migrants. The camp, a piece of dirt land and a couple of barracks encircled by the barbed wire, can hold 150 people. During the days I was there, it seems that about 700 migrants where there. The 15-20 days are the days during which migrants wait for the expulsion order. However, if there are many migrants in the camp, then it is common that they are moved further without any official communication/expulsion order. In fact, collective deportations have in past taken place without any official communication/expulsion order being issued. During the period in the camp migrants are 'identified': this means that their fingerprints, the given name(s) or number, and a photo are placed on a piece of paper. If I am not mistaking, it seems that these types of identifications take place also on the pier, immediately upon emptying the boats.

Since the IOM signed the agreement with Libya (see press relesase below), the deportation flight take regularly place on Wednesdays from Lampedusa and on Sundays from Catania. The practice of identifying most of the migrants as Egyptians rather than migrants coming from Sub-Saharan Africa seems to be link to the fact that Libya accepts only those migrants whom they can officially deport further. Identifying migrants as of the same nationality also enables the collective deportations.

I was on the airport during the Wednesday deportation flight and want to convey you the image of the scene. Not so much because of the deportation itself, but because of the incredible contrast between the deportation and tourist flights, planes staying 10m away from each other.

At the moment of the deportation, two planes where standing on the small piece of asphalt. One is AirOne, an Italian tourist carrier and the other one had the sign of AA, and carried the Croatian flag. After a net search, I found out that AA stands for Air Adriatic, a private Croatian i.e. Istrian air company, owned by Dean Cabric. AA does also tourist charter flights from and to Croatian coast. I also found out that Amnesty International Croatia has written to AA and told them that by transporting the migrants they are violating human rights. The local news paper from Rijeka picked up on that and there was a text (written by Ladislav Tomcic) in which the owned of AA is accused of 'transporting Africans into suffering and death'. The owner of AA answered saying that the accusations are unjust since AA provides service to its passengers according to the European standards, meaning it offers passengers food, drinks and comfort (Novi List, 11.05.2005)

Back to the airport. As I said, two planes, 10m distance from each other. Moreover, AA plane is 20 meters away from the detention camp. While inside of the airport building, one can see the camp clearly. It is only few meters away. Behind the bribed wire, there are many men walking around or seated in the courtyard. The deportation takes place as a 'small' event. 4 men (i.e. 3 men and 1 woman) accompany 10 migrants (all black men) from the camp to the plane. It always happens in groups of ten and in the form of 'fila indiana' (walking one behind other). So, migrants walk one behind the other, with 4 police officers in civilian clothes and black gloves next to them i.e. one in front, one in the back and two on the sides. Migrant men are all dressed the same, probably into clothes they were give there: a blue sports trousers and jacket, with a vertical white stripe. And each of them carries a white plastic shopping bag. While migrant are marched into the place, in an ordered and small formation, a large group of tourists moves randomly towards the other plane. The contrast of these two situations, one next to the other, cannot be more striking.

Migrants detained and deported from Lampedusa by plane have no chance of requesting asylum or react against the expulsion order if they get one. Deportation flights happen without migrants having received any official communication/expulsion order. Instead, migrants receive the paper that identifies them: the photo, name/number and a fingerprint.

Deportations also take place by ship. The ship comes to the very same port I was describing above. Opposite to the identification/line-up pier and under the airport hill. Migrants are the last one to board the ship. When everyone is already on the ship, migrants are taken by the police to the ship walking in the same --but this time bigger-- formation as at the airport. The ship takes migrants to Porto Empedocle and from there they are taken to the camp in Crotone (south Italy). These migrants, coming from Maghreb counties, will be held in Crotone for 60 days until released or until they escape. Contrary to Lampedusa, Crotone seems to be a place where ones chances of escaping are quite high.

Press release on IOM lybian agreement

GENEVA-IOM and Libya Sign Agreement -The Permanent Representative of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Mme Najat Al-Hajjaji, today signed an agreement with IOM Director General, Brunson McKinley, for the opening of an office in Tripoli.

Welcoming the signing of this agreement, McKinley said: "We look forward to reinforcing our on-going cooperation with the Libyan government to construct, in new practical and balanced ways, a strong partnership that will serve both the rights of migrants and migration priorities of the Jamahiriya as a receiving and transit country."

Mme Al-Hajjaji told journalists: "Curbing irregular migration and promoting orderly and humane migration management have become priorities for governments in the Western Mediterranean region. Libya, as a country of transit and destination for migrants intends to address the issue in a comprehensive manner both bilaterally and multilaterally."

The new agreement provides IOM with the same privileges and immunities as specified by the 1947 Convention on Privileges and Immunities of UN.

Through a series of diplomatic and technical consultations, held in Geneva, in Tripoli and within the context of the 5+ 5 dialogue, IOM and Libya have agreed to cooperate on migration issues such as the rights of migrants, international migration law and technical assistance and capacity building for migration management. Pilot activities will start very shortly with Italian funding.

In June 2004, IOM and the Libyan government organised a seminar in Tripoli that brought together some 50 officials from nine Western Mediterranean countries (Algeria, France, Italy, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Portugal, Spain and Tunisia) to discuss improved regional cooperation in migration and development, rights of migrants and the fight against irregular migration.

IOM has also organised training sessions for Libyan officials to discuss issues related to border management, international migration law, rights of migrants and assisted voluntary return and reintegration for stranded migrants.

Areas of future cooperation include:

Labour selection programmes for migrant workers whose skills match Libya's labour needs Assistance programmes for trafficked migrants Assisted humane voluntary return and sustainable reintegration programmes for irregular migrants in Libya Information campaigns to raise awareness amongst potential irregular migrants Income generating programmes in neighbouring countries for potential migrants to Libya.

Libya is an active player in the Western Mediterranean Dialogue on Migration ("5+5 Dialogue"), which brings together ministers and representatives of the governments of Algeria, France, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Portugal, Spain and Tunisia to work on common migration issues.

The Third Ministerial Meeting on Migration in the Western Mediterranean in September 2004 in Algiers, recommended the opening of a dialogue with sub-Saharan countries on the issue of transit migration to Europe.

Libya joined IOM as a member state in June 2004.