Tension Rises On Italian Island As Immigrants Flood In From Post-Revolution Tunisia

The island of Lampedusa has long been a point of entry into Europe for immigrants making the perilous sea crossing from North Africa. A new wave is now fleeing uncertainty in Tunisia.

Lampedusa (noborder network)
Lampedusa (noborder network)
Federico Geremicca

LAMPEDUSA – This tiny island south of Sicily suddenly seems half-Tunisian. Having arrived by boat in the wake of the Tunisian regime's collapse, hundreds of Tunisians are walking around the small streets near the port, raising levels of both anger and fear amongst locals.

This weekend, Lampedusa's mayor was forced to pass an urgent decree that forbids the selling of alcohol in cafes and grocery stores because it has become a "serious danger to citizens' safety."

With many of the immigrants forced to sleep outside, drinking may help brave the cold on these chilly February nights, but authorities worry that it could also be the spark that turns rising tension into actual violence.

Consider the numbers. On Sunday – the first day in the past week without any new immigrant arrivals – 250 immigrants were evacuated from Lampedusa: 150 by boat and 100 by plane. But that is just a small percentage of the 2,000 who have arrived over the past few weeks on an island with a population of fewer than 6,000.

All of southern Italy's immigrant shelters are currently at capacity, keeping the vast majority of the recent arrivals on Lampedusa, with some 150 police officers from various squadrons brought in to monitor this potentially dangerous situation.

The local center for immigrants has finally been reopened by Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, after days of inexplicable resistance. The center's gates nevertheless remain open, because there is simply not enough security to prevent the immigrants from walking in and out as they please.

A visit Sunday night to the shelter, which is meant to hold a maximum of 800 people, one could see an estimated 2,000 people sleeping in the vicinity

The following morning, the owner of "Bar del Porto" (Harbor Cafe), Massimo Tuccio, was yelling in Sicilian dialect: "It is a shame. This could only happen to us. If it were the North of Italy, the locals wouldn't be abandoned (by the government) like this."

Referring to the Tunisians as "Moroccans," he laments that they have "taken over" the island. "They act as if they were the owners. We are afraid for the women and children. They hit on our girls, one will end up getting pregnant," he said. "I have three children, and I will not let them go to school anymore. There are no police, and it is too dangerous."

Captain Donato De Tommaso, commander of Lampedusa's police force, is doing his best with limited staffing. But he recognizes the tense situation is ripe for serious confrontation. "A half-drunk man on one side, and a hot-headed on the other side are enough to start a sort of civil war. Tunisians vs. Sicilians: no one knows how that could end."

Locals also worry about theft. For now, many of the Tunisian arrivals still have some cash to charge their mobile phones, buy cigarettes, have breakfast in the cafes. But what will happen when that money runs out? "Maybe they will go to rob some of the (empty) beach homes," says Don Pino, owner of the most famous cafe on the island. "Or maybe they will rob our homes."

The island's fisherman, some of whom over the years have saved immigrants stranded in broken-down boats, have their own calculus. They have been on strike for weeks, protesting the price of oil for their boats, which in the wake of the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt now costs twice as much as elsewhere in Italy. They are looking forward to expressing their grievances at a meeting with government ministers that is scheduled to take place in Rome next Thursday.

"We want answers, or there will be trouble," says a threatening banner on one of the fishing boats. Salvatore, the boss of the protest committee and owner of the boat La Cambusa vows a hard line if their demands are not met. "We will close the harbor with steel cables and won't let anyone in or out; neither the authorities nor immigrants, seeing as they receive better treatment than we do."

Read the original article in Italian

photo - (noborder network)

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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