Libya’s Secret Weapon? Unleashing Mass Immigration

Libya’s Secret Weapon? Unleashing Mass Immigration

The tiny Italian island of Lampedusa is on Europe's front line after Western strikes against Libya begin. Gaddafi could set off a massive migrant influx from his coastline toward Lampedusa, or try to fire missiles at the island like he did in 1986.

Remains of immigrant boat on Lampedusa (pv canale)

LAMPEDUSA - More than his Scud missiles, Europe has reason to fear that the Muammar Gaddafi could send dozens of ships packed with would-be immigrants toward Europe in the wake of Western air strikes on Libya. The front line of such retaliation would be Lampedusa, the Italian island just 180 miles north of the Libyan coast that has been struggling with the ebbs and flows of immigration from North Africa for the past decade.

Currrently, there are already 3,800 immigrants on the small island of 6,000 residents, after a recent wave of small boats arriving from Tunisia that followed unrest there. The fragile balance that is somehow still holding in place would be sure to snap if boats began to embark from the Libyan coast as well -- and the consequences of mass influx are hard to predict.

Nobody in Lampedusa spotted the French fighter jets go by on their way to bomb Libyan military forces. And residents were relieved by the reassurances of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his defense minister, who said that Gaddafi's missiles could not reach the island.

Memories are still vivid of Gaddafi's attempt on April 15, 1986 to strike Lampedusa in retaliation for the American bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi, and the death of his daughter. Libya fired two Scuds at the U.S. Coast Guard navigation station that was then located on the Italian island, but the missiles overshot their target, landing in the sea and causing no damage.

Now, instead, authorities agree that the urgent problem -- a ticking bomb, some say -- is how to deal with the thousands of migrants who hang out in the island's streets, often outnumbering residents.

Giuseppe Caruso, the island's special commissioner in charge of dealing with the immigrant emergency, is demanding that a Navy ship be used to house some of the migrants. This would allow authorities to relieve some of the burden from the island's overcrowded immigrant center.

The center is currently housing 2,600 people, far beyond its capacity of 800, making the living conditions unsustainable and raising fears of health risks. The San Marco ship, currently docked in the port of Augusta, north on the main island of Sicily, is expected to arrive in Lampedusa as early as Monday to take in some 700 people. Immigrant centers in other parts of Italy will take in more migrants as space becomes available.

Authorities are also looking to build a tent camp with a capacity of 500 people, and are awaiting supplies, including disposable toilets, to arrive by ship. While this is only a stopgap measure, it's still better than leaving the migrants by the maritime station where about 1,000 of the latest arrivals have been camping out.

Italy's President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, has weighed in, saying he felt close to Lampedusa's people for the difficulties they are facing, urging other Italian regions to show solidarity and share a burden that the island cannot possibly sustain on its own.

These words have encouraged the island's mayor. "We are hopeful that within the next 24 to 48 hours the situation can improve," said Dino De Rubeis, adding that he had received reassurances that by Tuesday the government would answer his requests for help.

The mayor urged residents to remain calm, after dozens of them staged a protest at the port over the weekend that prevented several immigrant boats from docking for several hours. What eventually reassured the residents was not the authorities' words, but news that the Navy ship was on its way, a sign that things might be moving.

With summer approaching, the island has much at stake with the events shaking other parts of the world. Hotel reservations are down 25 percent already, and the prospect of a cut in summer business is alarming for residents who largely live off seasonal tourism.

The island is waiting for help, and the calm that has been restored is only apparent. Tensions are simmering below the surface and might explode at any moment: on Saturday afternoon, a group of people from the far-right group Forza Nuova came face to face with a group of migrants. There were shouts and tense moments, but nothing more.

But the tiniest spark could trigger a spiral of violence, and Italy has finally stepped up law enforcement on the island, including 100 additional soldiers have been deployed to patrol the immigrant center.

Read the original article in Italian

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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