A Nobel Prize for Lampedusa? Let’s not forget the real issue here is emigration

The fatuous talk of giving the island a Nobel Prize only distracts from the root problem

Share
Related Topics

In 1942 Malta was awarded the George Cross “to bear witness to the heroism and devotion of its people” during the Axis siege of the island. It was in a similar spirit that Italians were lining up this week to sign a petition to award Lampedusa the “Medaglia d’oro al valor civile” – the Gold Medal of Civil Valour – for its comportment during the recent tragedy that has filled the island’s aircraft hangar with more than 300 coffins, some of them very small. The news magazine L’Espresso has gone further, proposing that the island be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2014.

What can the islanders say to that? Probably what people must have said in Malta in ‘42 – what else could we do? What could we do but withstand, lend a hand, find evidence of  our shared humanity? Better that than the impudent inhumanity of Umberto Bossi, then leader of the Northern League, who during an earlier drowning disaster in 2006 declared, “I want to hear the roar of canon! The immigrants must be hunted down, for better or worse! At the second or third warning – boom! Fire the canons at them! Otherwise this will never stop!” 

Dr Pietro Bartolo was one of Lampedusa’s exemplary islanders, rising from his sick bed last week after word arrived of another boat in trouble. He laboured day and night for four days, tending to the sick, the dying and the dead. He was on hand 22 years ago when the very first migrant boat hoved into view carrying three Tunisians. “People didn’t know what was happening, they were screaming, ‘the Turks are upon us!’” Bartolo recalled. 

The power of numbers is an extraordinary thing: migrants have been turning up in Lampedusa month after month, year after year – some 200,000 since 1991, counting the living and the dead. Italians are so numbed by the repetition that it barely makes the national news any more. But the scale of the latest disaster, the circumstances and the numbers of women and children, suddenly caused it to flare up as a source of sorrow, rage, indignation, even – with the discussion of Gold Medals and Nobel Prizes – pride. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Enrico Letta was there with Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, promising €30m of EU sticking plaster. Islanders were waiting for them. “Clowns! Assassins!” they shrieked as they passed.

Dr Bartolo rejects the view, widely-held in Italy, that the Lampedusans are utterly fed up with the arrivals. “One thing I really hate is to read these polemics about Lampedusans,” he told Corriere della Sera. “This story of the fishing boat which saw a boat sinking and turned around and failed to stop – it’s  rubbish, I don’t believe it at all…Even those [on the island] who say they are fed up with the immigrants and say, ‘why don’t they block them from coming?’ – they are the first to rush out to lend a hand.”

That may well be the case. But the bald fact is that the immigrant boats are a regular blight on the only thing which keeps the island in business, the flow of summer tourists, especially from Milan, who crave hot African sun and gorgeous Mediterranean sea without the hassle of going abroad or encountering foreigners, especially black ones. While I was on the island reporting a similar tragedy some years ago, a local hotelier told me that potential guests were ringing non-stop to ask about the immigrant situation. “I tell them, come to Lampedusa and if you see a single black during your stay, you can stay for nothing. But if you see none, you pay double.”

All this chatter – Italians as splendid people or racists, the promise of yet more EU money when hundreds of millions have already been wasted, the fatuous talk of giving the island a Nobel Prize – only distracts from the real issue: what is in Europe’s power to do to change the political and economic situation in countries like Eritrea and Somalia, so their young people no longer feel the need to risk their lives in this way, but instead stay put? No other question really matters.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A picture posted by Lubitz to Facebook in February 2013  

Andreas Lubitz: Knee-jerk reaction to 9/11 enabled mass murder

Simon Calder
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, presides at the reinterment of Richard III yesterday  

Richard III: We Leicester folk have one question: how much did it all cost?

Sean O’Grady
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss