Tuesday

4th Aug 2020

Tunisian migrant: EU treatment is 'shameful'

  • Waiting in the port: Tunisian migrants have been camping for days under the clear sky (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Tunisian migrants stuck in harsh conditions in Lampedusa feel let down by the EU compared to the effort made by ordinary Tunisians to help refugees fleeing violence in Libya.

Thirty-year old Khaled Harobi came to the Italian island on Sunday and has spent the past three nights sleeping "on the grass" in a hostile atmosphere with Italian locals protesting against the fresh influx of needy people.

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"We came here to look for freedom, to look for justice, rights. Because this is what we hear about Europe. But where is it? We didn't find anything," he told EUobserver, noting that Italy is complaining about a few thousand immigrants at a time when the much poorer Tunisia has welcomed over 200,000 refugees from Libya.

"In Tunisia it's not like this. In Tunisia, people from all the cities - from Tunis, Djerba, Sfax - brought pillows, all sorts of things to help the refugees. Food, too. We haven't eaten anything, except for some milk," said the francophone former hotel cashier, who hopes to get to France and to get a job as "anything."

The 16-to-24-hour-long trip by boat from post-revolutionary Tunisia is no easy ride, especially when the waves are high. Last week, 42 people died when their boat was overturned. Juts five were saved after being rushed to the local emergency room on Lampedusa.

Carrying mostly young men in their 20s and 30s, some boats also have women and children on board. On Tuesday, six women arrived, one of whom was pregnant and was accompanied by her husband.

At the airport in Lampedusa on Tuesday (22 March), a group of 70 Tunisians were waiting to be flown to Sicily. Mohammed Tebey, 32 years old, told this website he spent 10 days on the island before boarding a police plane. "I stayed four days at the [reception centre], after six days under clear sky."

Aid workers and local charities offering food, clothes and blankets are overstretched as the frequency of incoming boats outpaces the flights going out from the island. The reception centre, built for a maximum of 850 persons, was at one point hosting over 2,000 in rapidly-deteriorating sanitary conditions.

Many were brought to the centre just to be registered and then left to go back and camp on the hills around the port.

The Italian Finance Guard (which operates ships rescuing the migrants at high sea) on Wednesday said there were no new arrivals overnight - a first in the past five days. "But we expect more boats to come. And, at some point, boats from Libya," said Finance Guard spokesman Eduardo Faiella.

After several days of protests by Lamepdusa locals, the Italian government on Monday held an emergency meeting and convinced other regions to take in the 5,000 or so people who have arrived in the space of less than a week. The figure is as large as the total native population.

An Italian warship was on Wednesday deployed to Lampedusa to help with the transfer of around 700 of the Tunisians. The warship San Marco, one of Italy's three landing platform dock (LPD) boats, will carry the migrants to Sicily, speeding up the relocation effort which was until now carried out by plane with just 60 to 70 people per flight.

"The pace was way too slow," said Tommaso dilla Longa, a spokesman for the local Red Cross mission. "We asked the Italian government on Sunday to reinforce the airlink, as the situation here is unsustainable." He noted that: "We have [had] many arrivals in the last five days. We will double our team to 24 doctors and nurses in this field hospital."

For its part, Frontex, the EU's Warsaw-based border control agency, is doing its bit to help with money.

The agency has offered to reimburse Italy the cost of flights carrying migrants from Lampedusa to other migrant camps in Italy where Frontex has personnel. The financial offer covers three centres in Sicily and two on the Italian mainland.

EU expands patrol mission around Lampedusa

Frontex, the EU's border agency, has extended until the end of August its patrolling mission around the Italian island of Lampedusa and widened its area of operations, as the influx of Tunisian migrants continues to outpace the flights and naval transport to the Italian mainland.

Tunisian migrants spark protests on Italian island

With hundreds of Tunisian migrants arriving every day by boat, the inhabitants of the overcrowded island of Lampedusa over the weekend have staged daily protests in the port, calling on the Italian government to step up the pace of transfers to the mainland.

Italy presses for Nato command of Libya war

Wary of immigrants fleeing Libya and potential retaliation from Gaddafi, Italy is calling on its allies to bring the airstrikes under Nato command, suggesting it may otherwise withdraw authorisation for the use of its military bases.

EU border agency gets extra powers

The European Parliament on Tuesday agreed to extend the powers of Frontex, the bloc's border agency and insisted on some provisions reinforcing migrants' rights. Groups dealing with refugees say the measures merely scrape the surface of the problem.

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