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TOPIC: migrant crisis

Migrant Lives

Lampedusa, The Far Right's Favorite European Island

The European migrant crisis is once again making headlines, this time from the small island of Lampedusa, Italy. It exposes not only the far right's eagerness to exploit the issue of immigration, but also the delicate balance of power in electoral terms.


PARIS — Europe is facing a new test of its unity and strength. In recent years, it had to tackle challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This time, the test comes from the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa.

This 20 square-kilometer island saw more migrants arrive last week than it has inhabitants, some 8500 people, largely from Tunisia, arriving on 200 boats. While this is a large number for the island to handle, it's s important to have perspective before using terms such as "invasion." We are far from the numbers seen in 2015 when one million migrants arrived, particularly from Syria.

The issue is humanitarian, but also, ultimately, political. It challenges the hard line on immigration of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, and her coalition that spans from center-right to far-right allies. The arrival of migrants en masse serves as an ideal opportunity for political exploitation as the campaign for the European elections begins. It also disrupts the shaky migration policy of the European Union and the agreement narrowly reached in June.

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What's Climate Migration? A Straight Line From Libyan Floods To Lampedusa Chaos

Libya's catastrophic flood last week coincided with massive arrivals of migrants on the Italian island of Lampedusa. What look at first like two distinct stories are part of the same mounting crisis that the world is simply not prepared to face: climate migration.

Updated September 18, 2023 at 1:45 p.m.


They are difficult numbers for the brain to comprehend: 4,000 dead, 10,000 more missing. This is the current estimate of the toll — with most victims having drowned and washed away almost immediately — after two dams burst last week during a massive storm in eastern Libya.

As the search continues for victims in and around the city of Derna, across the Mediterranean Sea, a different number tells another troubling story: in the span of just two days, 7,000 migrants have arrived on the island of Lampedusa.

Midway between Sicily and the North African coast, the tiny Italian island has long been a destination for those hailing from all points south and east to arrive on European soil. Still, the staggering number of arrivals this week of people ready to risk their lives on the perilous journey across the Mediterranean should again set off alarms that reach far beyond the island.

Yet these two numbers — one of the thousands of dead, the other of thousands of survivors — are in some way really one story.

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20,000 Feared Dead In Libya Floods, Brazil Rioters On Trial, Giraffe Oracle

👋 Nyob zoo!*

Welcome to Thursday, where Libya floods may have killed as many as 20,000 people, trials begin for pro-Bolsonaro rioters accused of staging a coup in January, and Obano the rugby-loving giraffe is put to the test. Meanwhile, Maria Corbi in Italian daily La Stampa looks at the man’s man’s world of influencers, and the one Italian woman who puts them all to shame.

[*Nyaw zhong - Hmong, China, Vietnam, Laos]

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Polish Woman Killed On Greek Island: A Textbook Case Of How Racism And Sexism Are Triggered

The death of a 27-year-old hotel worker on the island of Kos, and the arrest of a suspect from Bangladesh, has set off a firestorm back in Poland that mixes anti-immigrant contempt with victim blaming against the murdered woman for "asking for it."

KOS — It's the kind of tragic story that, sadly, regularly fills the criminal ledgers of local police precincts around the world.

Anastazja Rubińska, 27, went missing on June 12 on the Greek island of Kos, after she'd gone to get a drink during a day off from the local hotel where she worked. She never made it home alive.

A seasonal tourism worker from the southwestern Polish city of Wrocław, Rubińska had sent a message to her longtime live-in boyfriend, asking him to pick her up because she didn’t feel safe, and shared her location. But soon after, she sent a message that everything instead was under control, that she had drunk too much, and that someone would drive her home.

When she didn't return home by the next morning, the boyfriend alerted the local Greek authorities, who launched an investigation. Police confirmed that Rubińska had last been seen at a bar with a group of five men. One of them, a 32 year-old from Bangladesh, now identified as Salahuddin S., who would later confess that he had sexually assaulted Rubińska. At his home, police say they discovered a shirt with blond hair and blood stains belonging to Rubińska, and noted that the man was covered in scratches.

On June 18th, six days after the victim had gone missing, her body was found, about a kilometer from the residence of Salahuddin S. The presumed cause of her death was asphyxiation, and there were also signs pointing to sexual assault.

The murder was bound to quickly turn into a cause célèbre back in Poland.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Joanna Klimowicz, Ekaterina Lemonjava

How Prigozhin's Presence Is Feeding Tensions At Belarus-Poland Border

Described as everything from a "migrant invasion" to a "hybrid attack", the crisis along Poland's border with Belarus has been heating up for the past two months. But the conflict has now been made worse by the arrival of the Wagner mercenary grouop in Belarus. This leaves migrants, many fleeing conflict elsewhere, stuck between the two borders.

This article has been updated on July 3, 2023 at 12:00

BIAŁYSTOK — Polish authorities had already been arming themselves for months in preparation for provocations and hybrid attacks from across the Belarusian border. But for the past week,tensions have multiplied since the Russian owner of the Wagner group — Yevgeny Prigozhin — arrived in Belarus after his aborted coup attempt.

On Sunday, Poland decided to send 500 more police from its counter-terrorism and riot control divisions to the border, citing the increased level of border crossing attempts, as well as the relocation of Wagner Group members.

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Prigozhin's presence in Belarus followed negotiations with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, which provided that he would be exiled from Russia, rather than prosecuted for his attempted armed rebellion last week. Other members of the Wagner group are also reportedly settling in Belarus, though none have appeared in public for the past 10 days.

The increased geopolitical tensions in Belarus “could mark a new phase of hybrid warfare, a phase much more difficult than the one we have faced so far,” Poland's deputy prime minister and longtime ruling party leader Jarosław Kaczyński told audiences at a press conference last week. "Decisions have been made to strengthen our defense on the eastern border.”

Kaczyński's sentiments were echoed by Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak, who told Polish state broadcaster TVP that Poland "can expect hybrid attacks with the participation of these people", leading him and other senior government officials to reinforce security along the Polish border.

Polish inhabitants along the border fear that the zone may be closed once again, as it was when the crisis began, and Poland declared a state of emergency. Meanwhile, refugees, many from the war-torn areas of the Middle East, are stuck between two armies, fighting to survive.

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Migrant Lives
Marie-Luise Goldmann

Ukrainians In 2022 vs. Syrians In 2015, Why Some Refugees Get A Warmer Welcome

As people open their homes to Ukrainian refugees, some in Germany and elsewhere in Europe are criticizing the lack of a similar welcome for Syrians in 2015. Do we have a responsibility to offer the same level of help to all those in need — and are we even capable of that? The answer might just be found in philosophy.


BERLIN — The war in Ukraine has moved many to open their homes to refugees, but this warm welcome has also sparked criticism, with some asking why so many Germans are now happy to have a Ukrainian under their roof when they wouldn’t have done the same for a Syrian in 2015.

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There are many reasons for this. Nigerian author Ayo Sogunro tweeted, “Can't get it out of my head that Europe cried about a 'migrant crisis' in 2015 against 1.4 million refugees fleeing war in Syria and yet quickly absorbed some 2 million Ukrainians within days, complete with flags and piano music. Europe never had a migrant crisis. It has a racism crisis."

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Niccolò Zancan

For A Tunisian City, The Mediterranean Offers Hope And Death

In the southern city of El Hamma, young Tunisians attempt to emigrate all the time for a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean. One recent tragedy left dozens dead.

EL HAMMA — Departing in mass from this small southern city, 74 young, unemployed Tunisians left in search of a brighter future in Europe. On June 3, 44 of them died in the treacherous waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

Sitting on a plastic chair outside his house in El Hamma, Ben Farah Adouni confirms that his son Tarek died that day. "They should've at least organized a state funeral. But for the Tunisian government, our sons are worthless whether they're dead or alive."

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Niccolò Zancan

In Southern Italy, A City's Perfect Storm Of Populism

The populist Five-Star Movement and the right-wing League won over half the vote in the struggling mid-sized city of Foggia by promising more jobs and less immigration.

FOGGIA — In front of the decaying ruins of the once-glorious Ariston theater, three people sleep on cardboard on the sidewalk. The street is lined with shuttered shopfronts and for-sale signs, and the air is filled with wasps and the stench of rotting meat. A drunk man is strewn on the sidewalk in front of what was once a clothing store, and the street's only coffee shop closed years ago.

The neighborhood surrounding the central train station in Foggia, a city of 153,000 in the Puglia region, is a forgotten land. It's five in the afternoon, scorching hot, and there are only three businesses still open: Fashion Bazar, Punjab Kebab, and a discount supermarket that advertises chicken thighs for 1.99 euros a kilo. Seeing it all first-hand helps explain how the League — a northern separatist movement turned national right-wing party — won 9% of the vote in a city where it had until recently been nonexistent, and why the populist Five Star party won by far the most votes with 44%.

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Nicola Pinna

Italian Elections: Using 'Guerrilla Art' To Change Immigration Debate

Anti-immigrant rhetoric has become increasingly commonplace as political forces jockey for position ahead of this Sunday's national elections.

TURIN — Their faces adorn election posters seen throughout the cities of Italy last week, inviting citizens to "vote for them." But the people depicted — Jasvir, Michael, Anayet, Mamhut, Zhang, Rahaman, Viltus, and Ali — are not candidates in the upcoming national elections, on March 4. They're immigrants, from all walks of life, chosen by Italian artists for a public campaign to protest the anti-immigrant rhetoric so prevalent in this election season.

Italians will go to the polls for the first time since an inconclusive vote in 2013 led to a grand coalition between the center-left Democratic Party (PD) and center-right parties under Enrico Letta. The deal collapsed later that year over a tax hike and Letta himself was ousted by PD leader Matteo Renzi in early 2014. Renzi presided over a slow economic recovery from the eurozone crisis, but his tenure also saw a spike in migrant arrivals on Italian shores.

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Marco Bresolin

In Ivory Coast, Stars Campaign To Keep People From Emigrating

ABIDJAN — Jumping and dancing to the rhythm of the popular urban music zouglou, they snap pictures on their smartphones of their idols performing onstage. Always smiling and never sitting still, Ivory Coast's millennials have been nicknamed the "génération pressée pressée," the generation that is always in a rush.

Young Ivorians are dynamic and curious, and restless to leave their home country to explore a world they have so far only seen on TV. On a Sunday in late November, a free concert in Abidjan's sports stadium attracted many spectators. The country's largest city and financial capital hosted a show featuring some of the most popular Ivorian stars, including the band Magic System and the Ivorian soccer legend Didier Drogba. They all came together to send one message to their young fans, many of them eager to make the illegal journey across the Sahara and the Mediterranean to a better life in Europe: Don't go.

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Fabio Poletti

'Refugeeland' - Italy Resettles 80 Asylum Seekers In Town Of 7

The government's placement of migrants could increase the population of Vaccarozzi di Erbezzo, a miniscule mountain village above Verona, more than tenfold.

VACCAROZZI DI ERBEZZO — Locals have nicknamed this tiny Italian town "refugeeland." Located high in the mountains above Verona, Vaccarozzi di Erbezzo is home to just seven people. But that is now set to change — in a major way — with the arrival of as many as 80 asylum seekers resettled from other regions in Italy.

The transfers are part of an ambitious plan by Interior Minister Marco Minniti to house three migrants for every 1,000 people in towns across the country. Lucio Campedelli, Vaccarozzi di Erbezzo's mayor, is a political moderate. But he firmly opposes the plan.

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Migrant Lives
Giacomo Tognini

Displaced Guatemalans Languish On Mexican Border

LAGUNA LARGA — Four months ago, hundreds of villagers were expelled from their land in the jungles of northern Guatemala. The government claimed they were encroaching on a protected national park, sending over 700 men, women, and children fleeing to the nearby Mexican border. According to the Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre, the refugees continue to languish in squalid conditions without any government help despite growing criticism from human rights organizations.

Over 450 refugees remain trapped in the border area between Guatemala and Mexico, living in unsanitary conditions. Three women suffered miscarriages and three children were born without documents in a border zone, leaving them effectively stateless. Several women are pregnant but there is little medical care available, and there are no schools for the children.

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