In 2011 more than 1,500 people drowned or went missing in an attempt to cross the Mediterranean. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees began keeping statistics on crossings in 2006 , which has made 2011 the deadliest year in the Mediterranean. Lately, Spain , Italy and Malta have experienced the largest sea arrivals.
Waves of refugees continue to sail onto both Italian and Maltese shores. Of late, authorities have found four boats with a total of 342 migrants. Of those four boats, three were intercepted by Italian coast guards—a total of 260—and were taken to Lampedusa. Most of the migrants were said to be from Somalia. They send out a distress signal as the engine in their dinghy failed, as they often do on these treacherous trips.
I know enough to understand that surviving the journey through the Mediterranean , while horrific to both mind and body , sadly, is not the hardest part for those seeking a better life. Landing on shore may provide a momentary relief until real life sets in and the lack of what one has or hopes for both increase one hundred fold.
There is reality and then there is REALITY.
And the reality for refugees is that there will be minimal help patriating them as they try to mentally, physically and socially try to recalibrate their lives. They will no longer be seen for who they really are. They are no longer really individuals and they will be largely avoided in the streets. They will become the “unseen”. They will become, by virtue of their non-person status, indistinguishable from one another. They are now lumped together as “refugees” , those without work, sometimes without a home. They will be pitied , but avoided, reviled , mocked and used as a scapegoat for terrible economy that has assailed most of the European Union.
In the midst of boats arriving from African nations , immigrants are now rethinking their decision to live and work in Italy and are now turning their backs on Italy and it’s recession. Italy is now experiencing its longest postwar recession, making the climb back a long and hard one. Italy’s low birthrate (nearly the lowest in the world) needs immigrants in the workforce, but there seems to be no work. Italy’s demographics has largely depended on immigrants to bolster its numbers.
Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi fears the a government of leftwing Democrats which he believes would lead to instances of gay marriage and borders open to illegal immigrants. Democrats would answer these fears by leading the polls with a promise to grant citizenship to the children of immigrants born in Italy.
Racism is rampant in Italy. Those immigrants who cannot abide in a weak and failing economy will ask for assisted repatriation in their countries of origin. The hardworking Chinese are leaving in droves. The vulnerable who arrive in dinghy’s, on rickety boats, who are sun-sick, thirsty and half-crazed with fear and the missing of loved ones, will be the scapegoats for those who think that they are the real problem. Worse, they will forever be seen as sad “cases” instead of men and women who had real lives, lives of meaning before arriving in Italy.
My good friend Mody , who I have written about so many times here before, a refugee from Sudan recently spoke passionately about his lot in life to a group of my students in Sicily. He moved a room full of students to tears, because he dared to show who he really is, refused to allow them to see him only as a “victim” or as a non-person whose previous life , before he came to Italy, was wiped away. Mody is still unemployed, devoid of hope, disgusted with the system, angry with Italy in general, but a man of great intelligence and and even more dignity.
Among many other things, he told them:
This is not the whole story of me, what you see here of me in Italy. I am a man who had a country. I have a mother. Sisters. Brothers. People who love me. I had a job. Things that were important to me. This is not the whole story of me.
Racist attacks in Italy are on the rise. The reasons? Because immigrants have jobs. Because immigrants don’t have jobs. Because they are black. Because they talk funny. Smell funny. Look menacing. Are responsible for the rising crime rates. Because they cause instabilities in long established neighborhoods. Name your reason.
It is all a mixed and crazy bag of sad circumstances. Clearly, delusion is a disease and it is catching.