Report on visit to Lampedusa, 15 – 19 March 2011, for a study entitled:

Mobility following Mediterranean democratic movements: The role of ICTs.

Academia Europaea Social Sciences Section Initiative on Mobility and Integration, and IGU (International Geographical Union) MRP (Mediterranean Renaissance Program).

FROM: Maria Paradiso, MRP Coordinator; Member, AE Social Sciences Section

 

Maria Paradiso talking with Tunisians migrants

Attachment: Photos from Lampedusa field work.

As a geographer specializing in the information society, with a special interest in theMediterranean basin, I went to the Italian Lampedusa island in order to study the exposure of migrants to the Internet and to communications technologies while still in their North-African countries of origin, and the influence of ICTs on recent democratic movements. It is of interest for me to investigate the implications of ICTs on Maghreb –Mashrek societies.
Lampedusa, a remote Italian island of some 4,500 inhabitants, being a fascinating touristic destination, and located further South than Tunis, is of particular significance these days for learning on the happenings in Tunisia after the revolution which began14 January 2011. Every night, small boats with migrants land in Lampedusa, mainly from Tunisia, attempting to reach their families located in France, Germany, and Italy. For these migrants Lampedusa serves as the entrance point to Europe.
My field research was supported by the Italian National TV RAI Channel 3 sharing information on upcoming events and contacts, and providing admittance to their own tours and work routines. I joined, thus, often RAI 3 reporters, also during night time, when they got information on new arrivals. I took photos by myself, but was also donated many photos by the TV team. The expenses for this field study were not covered by institutional sources, claiming for no availability of funds for social science research.
The most striking impression of the first meetings with migrants was that one should abandon the idea that they are very poor people, with low-skill education, and that they are mature heads of families. After the recent democratic movements in North Africa, especially in Tunisia, there emerged a mobility of young people, often well dressed, with mobile telephones, and with recognized qualifications. They often are craftsmen like cobblers, carpenters, mechanics, masons, ‘bricoleur ‘, a plethora of jobs disappearing in European cities. Very often, migrants are university graduates. I was told that the presence of graduates and a resulting brain drain has been particularly significant in the aftermath of protests last February.
During my field work I carried out 30 full interviews with migrants. The total population of migrants rose from ca. 2,700 to some 5,000 in 4 nights, whereas the main absorption centre can host only 850 people! I also interviewed law enforcement officers, cultural mediators, workers of aid agencies, human rights observers, journalists, and Lampedusa people. Interviews were made in many places such as: the harbor immediately after landing; at the main entrance to the reception center ‘Centro diaccoglienza’; on the streets, as well as in cafés.
The interviews were aimed at investigating the migrants’ geo-cultural origin, their socio-economic, professional and education profiles, the dynamics of revolutions, their image of Europe, and their reasons for mobility. Often they showed me videos on their mobile phones presenting their journey and they translated for me their conversations in Arabic during their trip in overcrowded small boats: they encouraged each other, joking among themselves during their often dangerous crossing the sea. They were mostly men, and I saw only one woman. I was told that 12 ladies were on the island.
In particular, my research focused on the role of new technologies in the recent democratic movements in the Maghreb-Mashrek as well as on migration. I can say first of all that new communications and information technologies (Internet, facebook, mobile phones, and digital equipment like digital cameras) are a factor of integration for migrants in new societies: even those people with low educational qualifications (5-7 years of study) and living in disadvantaged and rural areas have access to information on the Internet and have a Facebook profile. This striking contrast between the socio-economic status of some of the immigrants, on the one hand, and their exposure to ICTs, on the other, paves the road in my opinion to a promising avenue of research: what are the geographical impacts of new technologies on individuals living in disadvantaged areas? What is the impact in terms of integration, homologation to ‘Western’ cultures, and empowerment? How much does the Web accelerates ecularization and democratic movements?
In Lampedusa one can observe a flow of young and secular migrants which I interpreted in the following three profiles of mobility:   1. Young people with a ‘Project of Life’ looking for a transparent society and better living conditions; 2 . Young people involved in a ‘grand tour’ of Europe as a learning experience for life; 3. A type of ‘social deviance’ .
The young people with a ‘Project of Life’ are in search of free life (some of them say in French ‘franche vie’, frank, honest, transparent life without hidden practices or codes).
They are looking in Europe for a ‘transparent society’ where relationships between people are based on equal rights and duties for all; on access to the labor market which is not distorted by corruption and practices of unfair recommendations. Europe is a magnet for them as a place of democracy and egalitarian society without arrogance, and they want to find better life and work. They are normally people who already have relatives in France, Germany, or Italy, and they wish to reach them.
Young people in ‘grand tour’ are very young, often under 18, migrants. They look on a trip to Europe as a learning experience for life; they are full of young energy and a youthful recklessness regarding this kind of mobility to Europe. Europe looks almost as an exotic destination for them in the sense that it is a ‘somewhere else place’ where they can find freedom to practice lifestyles which they learn about on TV and the Internet and to live in democratic countries. I realized that they were aware that knowledge of foreign languages is a must, especially English, for their integration; and they were aware of their language gap if they spoke only poor French. This profile of  ‘grand tour’ à la Maghreb made me think of the multitudes of young Europeans who take flights to reach the cultural destinations for the youth in Europe such as Berlin and Barcelona where they form a common understanding for European youth made up of a meeting each other and ‘easy life ‘ culture.
The third group, a true minority, is of  ‘social deviance’. These are individuals who try to return to Italy after having problems with the Italian justice (or the Tunisian one).
Young people (migrants) go to town to buy some personal necessities or to communicate over the Internet, notably in the afternoons. Often they complain that the Internet connection in Lampedusa is slower than the one they had at home. Some people use ATM. Lampedusa inhabitants initiated in coffee bars the ‘pre-paid coffee’ initiative where clients pre-pay coffees for others so that migrants can enjoy coffee already paid by customers. The residents have also started protests, demonstrations and blocks, being concerned about the permanence of migration and events if young people will run out of money.
The fragmentation among migration policies of European Member States does not help. Desirable is a European sharing of policies of acceptance, identification, integration in cities where family members live as diasporas as possible destinations, creation of databases of migrants’ occupations and qualifications, common measures for job placement. Such are also creative approaches to policies concerning enterprise creation and reconstruction in the countries of origin.
The logic of accumulation of migrants in a single geographical area, such as the small remote island of Lampedusa, where the inhabitants are ca. 4,500 as compared to 5,000 immigrants creates an unprecedented event of general segregation between migrants and citizens under militarization and securitization. Lampedusa people usually practice habits of spontaneous hospitality; their work as law enforcement officers and brokers is really and highly commendable; however there remains the problem of the ratio between local population and migrants, which is very unbalanced for a small remote island and residents who are afraid that their economy based on tourism could be ruined. There are no forms of compensation for local people in terms i.e. of improving local infrastructure, i.e. a hospital, transport links to the main land or other destinations: nobody was born on the island since there is no hospital in Lampedusa. The transformation of the island is likely to emerge as a huge area of segregation, an island of ‘confinement’ where both migrants and the islanders are likely to live in separate enclaves. This can happen also because of the absence of a unified European intervention to avoid the logic of spatial concentration and marginalization. The migrants and the local population are people who coexist in a small area increasingly under militarization and securitization processes.
Europe exerts a magnetic attraction for young people from North Africa (many of them from Southern arid, desert regions of Tunisia, many from Tunis and Cap Bon), who are looking for a fair and just society: Europe has a responsibility in this regard to these young people who seek integration and support for accessing the job market, often people with jobs that we lack in our cities, or people with academic education.
Europe, in a certain sense, is not in danger of loosing its identity, because European identity is based on values of the democratic state and welfare, which precisely constitute a reference point in the project of life for younger generations migrating from other contin