Remembering the refugees of Lampedusa
Lampedusa is a small island in the Mediterranean Sea. Although it belongs to Italy, it is closer to Tunisia than it is to mainland Italy. It is one of the main points of entry for African refugees wanting to get to Europe. Mamadou Ba is a Senegalese citizen who lives in Portugal. His poignant and thought-provoking photos highlight the fate of all those – living and dead – who have set off across the sea from North Africa in search of a better life.
Lampedusa Gate, Lampedusa. Mamadou Ba from Senegal has been living in Portugal since 1997. He is a human rights activist for the non-governmental organisation SOS Racismo. His images of Lampedusa are a haunting reminder of what happens to refugees who risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean in the hope of reaching Europe.
The graveyard of the boats on Lampedusa: hulls and broken parts of boats that have brought refugees from Africa to Europe pile up in Lampedusa's graveyard of the boats. Countless people have lost their lives in tragic circumstances, trying to make it to this tiny Italian island. The greatest of these tragedies unfolded on 3 October 2013, when 366 refugees were killed when their boat sank within sight of the Lampedusa coastline. On 11 January 2014, about 200 refugees were saved by the Italian navy.
Watery grave: the waters around the island have become a graveyard for so many migrants. "People die because they set out in search of a better life," says Mamadou Ba. In October 2013 alone, over 400 people were killed in two separate incidents on the stretch of water between North Africa and Lampedusa. Most of the dead came from Eritrea and Somalia.
Remnants of a journey that was filled with hope but ended in disaster: little is known about the people who did not make it across the sea to Europe, but died along the way. Most of them are just anonymous numbers in the statistics. Sometimes, the only trace of them that remains are clothes, such as these items that washed up on the island of Lampedusa.
Keeping the memory alive: a small museum has been set up on Lampedusa to exhibit the personal belongings of those who died when their boats sank. The exhibition includes passports, photographs and hand-written notes. "Although the people are dead, these objects help us remember them. Some of them show us that these refugees were just simple people with simple dreams," says Mamadou Ba.
Some migrants take straightforward necessities such as saucepans when they leave their native homes. It is not possible to say whether the saucepans exhibited in the museum belonged to refugees who never made it to Lampedusa or from survivors who lost all their belongings during the crossing.
Visitors are reminded of the refugees at many spots along the 9-km-long island. "These traces keep alive the memory of those refugees who lost their lives," says Mamadou Ba. Lampedusa is situated about 205 kilometres south of the Italian island of Sicily and only about 130 kilometres north of Tunisia. This makes Lampedusa the ideal springboard for those desperate to get to Europe.
"Fortress Europe": this bunker, which dates from the Second World War, is symbolic of the European Union's attempt to keep its borders firmly closed. In February, about 400 representatives of civil society protested against the EU's refugee policy and called for a new European immigration policy. In view of the many people who have lost their lives at EU borders over the years, they demand greater respect for the human rights of refugees.
The sea around Lampedusa: the inhabitants of this small Mediterranean island hope for better days. However, only very few believe that the flood of immigrants – and the tragedies that go hand in hand with their attempts to reach the island – will end without a radical overhaul of Europe's immigration policy.