The Italian island of Lampedusa. Is this the place where all migration problems of Europe cumulate?

Essay, 2015

10 Pages








Lampedusa is definitely a hot spot in the great European migration debate.[1] The tiny island of Lampedusa, “with its 5,000 inhabitants” (Telegraph Online), is located only 167 kilometres from the Tunisian coast and has become the front gate of Europe's south and a symbol for undocumented mobility. (Bertin & Fontanari, 2011, p. 22) Lampedusa functions as a vicarious example of EU (external) borders all focused in one place.[2] Borders consist of conflictive features: on the one hand border means exclusion of people from another state and on the other hand borders are always a zone of contact.[3] Although the right to mobility is an important point of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “border regimes set up limits to the freedom of movement”[4] and ignore the right of asylum.[5] The situation got worse after the so-called Arab Spring, especially after the fall of the regime in Libya subsequent to the Tunisian Revolution in 2011.[6] As we can see, Lampedusa’s “borderness” is not really the result of its geographical location, but it is a product of political and economic practices, just to mention the Schengen Agreement or exterritorial farmland. Political choices have also led to the formation of detention centres, strict boarder patrols, aid agencies, research institutes and big media campaigns. According to this last point most EU citizens automatically link Lampedusa with “unwanted migration” and “boat-people”. Boarder controls have been criticized because of the high death tolls they are evoking, when refugees from third world countries are continuously forced to change their roots to escape the authorities. Of course there also other critical borders in the European Nation like Greek and Spain, but Lampedusa, with its 40,000 illegal foreigners a year (The Telegraph Online) has become a synonym for the European border itself.[7] In the meantime the number of inhabitants is continuously twice as much as it used to be before the Arab spring. (Bertin & Fontanari, 2011, p. 22) The migration management has resulted in detentions without legal cause, in forced returns and push-back operations on the open water.[8] When a conflict is “securitized”, there are only a few ways to confront the problem: two of them are defence and threat. The aim is to disguise the solution of difficulties by security issues. (Campesi, 2011, p. 2) Besides, based on the assumption that political moves often need to be spectacular and that media is the instrument to transport sensational events, we can feel the difficult relationship between security measures and the grace of charity. Part of this political spectacle is the securitization of migration and further informal economic activities at the constructed border of Lampedusa.[9]


Due to the happenings on Lampedusa in the last two decades, which confronted whole Europe with the problem of undocumented mobility, I would like to state, that the island is made the main example for the grievance of migration.[10]


Europe needs one stage, where all its issues can be displayed. Too many scenes in different areas could easily confuse the target audience, but “concentrating one show on a single stage makes it easier for the spectator to follow the performance”[11].[12] In the first place, crisis are artificially produced to demonstrate the strength of Italy and European borderlands.[13] The borderline for example is essentially for the (self-)representation and the self-esteem of territorial power, whether the power of a state or the whole European

Union.[14] Secondly the humanitarian organizations, like first aid facilities and charity fundraiser, help to legitimize political strategies and their consequences in the public opinion.[15]

It is a fact, that in the first nine months of 2014 more than 2,500 asylum-seekers have died in front of the Italian coast, the majority of them coming from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia and Syria. Within only one year the Italian coast patrol sent back over 100,000 people trying to take the big insecure step to Europe (The Telegraph Online).

Italy, attempting to control mobility has made several bilateral agreements with North African states and installed border agencies like Frontex and the boat patrol.[16] What we can find here is a “multilevel system of governance”[17] founded on “a fundamental economic interest in the ‘management’ of mobility and the implementation of its policies”.[18] At the same time problems are generated and solutions are offered – that is one strategy representatives use especially before elections. In the midst of political campaigns fighting undocumented mobility is put on a level with fighting human trafficking.[19]

There was a strong episode of deportations between 2004 and 2006, when more than 2000 migrants were transported back from Lampedusa to Libya. This act was meant to sent a specific message to the audience: that Europe is defending its borders and pushing intruders back.[20]

Maybe it can be assumed that these operations of defence are rather carried out to gain benefits in electoral competitions than to fight an Europe-wide threat. Furthermore, the spotlight of medial and political interest was concentrated on Lampedusa, which encourages even more politics to visit the “area of conflict” in order to hold speeches and “take advantage of the visibility”[21].[22] But the more deportations were carried out, the more criticism arose. To prevent further precarious comments, the banishment of refugees was not made public anymore.[23]

Borders with such media attention are clearly “more 'border' than others”[24], especially

concerning the public opinion. As we learn, borders are not only visible because of high fences and walls, but even more as a result of political gestures performed on their symbolical stages. Lampedusa is used as a sample function: whether some case has been represented as an emergency or a solved problem, it is always done mentioning Lampedusa as its setting.[25] What makes Lampedusa the example of the debate is the concentration of all migration problems under medial surveillance. The increase of boat migrants from Africa came up at the same time as the migration from Albania abated. This shift from an inner-European border to an external border accumulated the scaremongering of Islamic terrorism and increased prejudice towards non-European, black and non-Christian immigrants coming from the North African coast.[26] Because Lampedusa is the closest European destination, thousands of boats were and are setting off from the Libyan coast every year.[27] According to that, sea and air patrolling are increased.[28] Many of the refugees die while trying to cross the Mediterranean sea. Since 2009 patrol boats tend to establish “push-back operations”, what means that people are forced to return to their port of departure and refused entry to the EU.[29] Two classical instruments used in case of migration control are ”the imposition of the visa obligation on citizens of most non-EU countries, and of sanctions on carriers transporting undocumented migrants across state borders.”[30] Paolo Cuttita assumes that if without these arrangements, the tragic undocumented boat migration would never have been occurred.[31]


[1] cf. ‘Borderizing’ the Island Setting and Narratives of the Lampedusa, p. 196

[2] cf. ibid, p. 199

[3] cf. Border Economies, p. 3

[4] Ibid., p. 1

[5] cf. ibid.,

[6] cf. ibid., p.1 f.

[7] cf. ‘Borderizing’ the Island Setting and Narratives of the Lampedusa, p. 196 f.

[8] cf. ‘Borderizing’ the Island Setting and Narratives of the Lampedusa, p. 198

[9] cf. ibid, p. 200

[10] cf. ibid., p. 197

[11] Ibid., p. 207

[12] cf. ibid.

[13] cf. ibid., p. 213

[14] Ibid., p. 212

[15] cf. ‘Borderizing’ the Island Setting and Narratives of the Lampedusa, p. 213

[16] cf. ibid., p. 200

[17] Border Economies, p. 71

[18] Ibid.

[19] cf. ibid., p. 6

[20] cf. ibid., p. 12

[21] Ibid., p. 17

[22] cf. ibid.

[23] cf. ‘Borderizing’ the Island Setting and Narratives of the Lampedusa, p. 207 f.

[24] Ibid., p. 212

[25] cf. ‘Borderizing’ the Island Setting and Narratives of the Lampedusa, p. 212

[26] cf. ibid., p. 206

[27] cf. ibid., p. 202

[28] cf. ibid., p. 199

[29] cf. ibid., p. 197 f.

[30] Ibid., p. 201

[31] cf. ibid.

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The Italian island of Lampedusa. Is this the place where all migration problems of Europe cumulate?
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migration, refugee, Lampedusa, borders, Italy
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Winnie Faust (Author), 2015, The Italian island of Lampedusa. Is this the place where all migration problems of Europe cumulate?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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