In only eight days, 1800 migrants arrived in Palermo. They went ashore from two different ships, the Vos Prudence (Medecins sans Frontieres) and the Diciotti, from the Italian Coastguard. Two different arrivals and two different stories... A different approach to the reality of immigration.
Nowadays, where we continue to let people die at sea, it is important not to adhere to the institutional logics of migration that focus on their own economic and ideological interests. For those dreaming of and committing to a more welcoming society, it is fundamental to condemn the “range of securitarian choices” proposed by the minister Minniti. We cannot accept that the part of humanity necessary to reveal all the migrant accounts and stories is taken away from us. It’s these stories that make us resilient during a political period of self-destruction and devastation.
When migrants disembark, an important aspect to understand the living conditions of these people (often underestimated due to the complexity of the moment itself) is their gaze. Almost always, their gaze is sad and lifeless – lost and incapable to focus. The moment they arrive, they are conscious of the fact that their suffering has not finished yet.
Nevertheless, something was different during the arrival of the Vos Prudence ship on the 12th of June 2017. While guests (this is how they are called on board) were disembarking from the ship, their eyes were full of serenity, dignity.. almost pride. For a moment, I had the feeling that their lives were not at the mercy of our incapacity to welcome them beyond the predictable emergency schemes and that their story was emerging from the anonymity.. from the invisibility. Something was coming to light due to their dramatic situation and to our stories linked to numbers. For a moment, by meeting their gaze, I had the feeling that they had themselves bridged that “gap of compassion” that is still making us powerless and too self-referential when talking about migration.
Nonetheless, the Vos Prudence “guests” were not so different from the “migrants” arrived on the Diciotti ship, a week later. They were as well tired and traumatised, vulnerable and in need of protection. We cannot forget that more than 70% of these people have suffered from a trauma in the course of their migration. Also, on the ship there have been unaccompanied minors who were victims of torture and rape in the Libyan centres, that there are lone women on board and that the risk for them to become victims of human trafficking and exploitation is high. Why this difference then?
A non-negligible element that should be taken into account is that after they are rescued at sea or transferred into another ship, the „guests" are recognised as “people”. What makes the difference is a human approach and a considerable sense of professionalism. To remain human (words of great importance to Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian volunteer killed in Gaza in 2011) during such difficult moments engage mutual recognition and can break the “vicious circle of indifference”. Humanity equals proximity and means to reconstruct the multiple “smashed emotions” of the migrant’s journey. Songs, prayers and dances follow the same idea of reconstruction, people can find their identity again by performing them after the landing, an identity lost in the inhumanity of what they have lived. The prayers in particular can turn into laments for those who were left behind, spreading hope and solace. The Mediterranean is not only a place of dismemberment and dispersion but also a place of brotherhood and creation of a new humanity.
Unfortunately, together with the living, on the Vos Prudence a corpse arrived. More than 2000 people lost their lives in the Mediterranean sea from the beginning of the year and they are still asking us to hold somebody to account. It is true that „it is impossible to count all the dead people because every person’s life has an infinite value. But that’s also the reason why we cannot close our eyes since the number of people who died at sea is higher than the number of the victims of terrorist attacks. And, we should wonder why we do not have the same pity for both categories. [...] When the deaths are numerous, they don’t appear in the news (Carlo Rovelli, Corriere della sera, 22nd June). The “Mare Nostrum” has sadly become the scene of an endless humanitarian tragedy.
In spite of all this suffering, when sharing the pain, it becomes possible to re-activate the human potential necessary to eliminate this reality of death.
A few days ago, the Movimento 5 Stelle deputy Luigi Di Maio said that we should “shed light on the activities of NGOs”. Even if the context of his words is absurd, I completely agree. We also want to shed light on NGOs’ activities because, without a doubt, we will see their great sense of humanity, organisational skills and professionalism, which are the reason for their legitimacy and make their presence essential. This is healing all the open wounds. We wish these wounds won’t prevent us from restarting together, one day in the very near future.
Comboni missionaries of Palermo
P.S. During the arrival of the Vos Prudence we celebrated a birthday. Celebrating life means to strengthen our commitment to protect and take care of it. Happy birthday to you and.. welcome humanity!