The Latest Illegal Immigrant To Land In Lampedusa Had Four Legs

A sheep that crossed the sea from Tunisia adds a light twist to the daily human drama of immigrants landing on the Italian island of Lampedusa. But the warmth doesn’t last.

Laura Anello

LAMPEDUSA - Among the cries of joy and relief from the Tunisian refugees on the dock of this tiny Italian island, a very different voice joined in: a sheep bleating -- almost as if to say: "I made it too!"

Authorities had rescued the immigrants, like so many before near Lampedusa, from a 10-meter long fishing boat. The Tunisian vessel was carrying 12 men, six women, a nine-year-old boy...and yes, one sheep. It was white, curly-haired, and an illegal immigrant like all the others. The sheep had been brought along to supply fresh milk for the boy.

The boat arrived in the harbor, with a show of 19 pairs of hands raised in the "V" sign for victory, and a triumphal pair of animal ears. "There is a sheep aboard," said one of the rescuers by radio to the harbor police station. "What..?" the operator asked. "A sheep," the policeman replied. It can happen on this island, the crossroads between two continents, the landing place for people who leave North Africa to run away from hunger, and to find a new place for their children to live.

Since the outbreak of revolutions in North Africa, some 40,000 immigrants have landed on Lampedusa. The stories on the island seem to be inspired from Aesop's fables or biblical tales. "This is an island for travellers of life," says Paolo La Rosa, a lawyer from Palermo. Young people in search of luck, women about to give birth, an 80-year-old blind man, and even a small dog have passed by this dock. This is the first sheep.

For a moment, the rescuers thought it was a joke. But the sheep was a treasure these immigrants could not afford to leave at home. "They brought the sheep along to feed the boy with its milk during the days spent at sea. In Africa, it is a valuable asset," said a rescuer.

Bad luck, and worse

This was just a small group compared with the many others who arrive every day from Libya. On Tuesday, around 290 Libyans landed on Lampedusa. On this day, the humans were pushed into a van to go for identification. One had been sent back from Lampedusa to Tunisia just last week. Some people try up to six, seven or eight times.

They would wind up being unlucky again this time. But the sheep was the most unlucky of the group. The men, the women and the boy were put on a list to be sent back home, in accordance with treaties made between Italy and Tunisia. The ovine -- as it was called in the bureaucratic documents -- was sent to its death. "The law states that illegally imported animals must be put down. We have no choice. We cannot send it back home or keep it." said Piero Bartolo, director of the Lampedusa emergency center.

Over recent months Dr. Bartolo has helped woman give birth, saved Tunisians who had swallowed razor blades to protest against the repatriation, and shut the eyes of the dead. And the other day, he found himself face-to-face with an illegally immigrant sheep.

A vet, who was by chance on the island, provided the solution. He took the sheep away. If sheep had feelings, maybe the animal thought for a moment that she would be safe at last. The vet gently took a blood sample to check if she had foot and mouth disease.

The analysis was not to make the sheep feel better, but to decide if pest control was necessary. The boat was sealed up as a precaution. The immigrants were sanitized, and kept in confinement. The sheep's end was death, as for many humans who left their homes and never reached Lampedusa.

photo - foxypar4

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

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.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!