News / Europe

N. African Migrants Risk Lives to Reach Italian Island

A man fleeing the unrest in Tunisia looks on as he and others arrive at the southern Italian island of Lampedusa (file photo)
A man fleeing the unrest in Tunisia looks on as he and others arrive at the southern Italian island of Lampedusa (file photo)


Henry Ridgwell

More than 30,000 migrants have arrived from north Africa on the tiny southern Italian island of Lampedusa, so far, this year.  Most of the migrants leave the coasts of Tunisia and Libya onboard rickety fishing boats.  Thousands of people have died making the journey.  Despite the dangers, the ongoing violence in Libya is forcing many more people to set sail for European shores.

As their boat lies crashed on the rocky shore of Lampedusa, the migrants onboard are forced to jump into the cold waters to save their lives. Italian rescue teams - together with local fishermen - form a human chain to help the migrants onshore.

Among the passengers are pregnant women and even babies who are literally thrown off the boat to the coast guard divers waiting in the waves below.

“We were about 600 passengers in the boat," said Peter Drry from Ghana who was working in Libya.  "When our compass got lost [broke], so when we were coming, there was no control. But fortunately we were rescued by the Italian navy. Our boat then hits a rock so we just fell into the water, into the sea, and finally we survived. I don’t know how to swim, but when it happened, I just tried my best!”

Drry and some of the migrants were given shelter at a temporary center beside the docks.  Drry explains why they took such a risky journey from the Libyan capital Tripoli.

“Ask my junior brother here. They attacked us in our house,' he explained. "They beat him everywhere so he collapsed and we took him to hospital. He was in hospital for 2 months and then we took him out of there and we made the journey here.”

Guy Picanor is from Burkina Faso.

“Libya is a catastrophe,” he said. “There is no security, it is so bad everywhere, so we had to leave.”  

Many of the migrants’ belongings lie scattered on the rocks. Among them, medicines, a copy of the Quran, even a ripped-up passport belonging to a citizen from Niger. Italian authorities say the migrants dispose of any identification because they want to claim asylum in Europe - and will claim they are from an area of conflict like the Ivory Coast.

Lampedusa lies just 200 kilometers from the coast of Tunisia. More than 30,000 migrants have landed here, so far, this year. Their boats are now moored in the harbor - many of them sinking and clogging the port.

At first, most migrants were Tunisians.

In the last month, the majority have been expatriate workers in Libya fleeing the violence there - most of them sub-Saharan Africans, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis.

Eight Libyan boats arrived in one day alone last week.  The rising numbers have prompted the European Union’s border agency, Frontex, to fund more rescue boats and spotter planes.

Antonio Morana, the commander of the Lampedusa coast guard, says he has overseen more than 300 rescue operations since February.

Morana says these operations are dangerous and very complicated. He says the boats are normally between 20 and 25 meters long and usually should have about 50 people on board. But now, he says, they have up to 800. From the point of view of buoyancy and stability, he says, the navigation is extremely dangerous especially if the weather conditions are not good.

Two days after the migrant boat crashed in to the rocks, dive teams found three bodies trapped beneath the vessel.

In the darkness no-one had seen them drown.

Despite the dangers of the journey, Italian authorities are preparing for many more migrants to arrive in Lampedusa in the coming months.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs