Italy: Lampedusa, one gateway to Europe

The Mediterranean island struggles under the strain of a constant refugee influx. It's not alone.

Lampedusa is 205 km from Sicily and only 20.2 sq km in area.  Supporting a population of 4,500 fishermen, farmers and their families, this dot in the Meditarranean has borne the brunt of a refugee tide from Tunisia and Libya:  Arabs, Sub-Saharan African workers and others.  35,000 of them in May 2011 alone, most in their twenties and thirties, according to the New York Times.  The Italian government has pleaded with European partners for assistance, response has varied and help has been slow in coming.

Greece is awash with migrants from the east - Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere - eager to enter Europe irrespective of Greece's economic predicament, presumably.  The Guardian reported in February, the Greek "socialist government has recently announced that it plans to build a razor-wire fence along the border (with Turkey). It will, say officials, be equipped with sonar systems and thermal sensors and be modelled along the lines of similar "walls" in Spain, Lithuania and France."

Deeper inside Europe, there's a strong desire not to insult illegal immigrants or make their lives unpleasant.  They have undoubtedly suffered much, it's presumed.  And are only human too after-all.  They have rights, and should command respect, like everyone else.

However, they arrive from countries which only too often don't offer any special respect to foreigners, or proper respect to locals either.  Countries with shoddy or sham democracies, or no democracy at all.  Places with few human rights, where locals would rather seek opportunities abroad than fight for freedom and justice back at home.

It seems that, due to the relative ease of modern travel (bribes and often dire conditions notwithstanding), people eager for advancement would prefer to chance their luck in a place where life is ordered, even if they don't speak the lingo, than argue their case, fight for rights or push for democratic change at home.  Often the dangers of such action at home are vast, or the culture demands conformity.  Diversity or challenge is met with rape, death, torture, imprisonment, rejection or social isolation.

How much less traumatic it would have been, though, for the peoples of now-developed countries if they had faced their own demonic regimes with acquiescence all those many years ago.  But they didn't.  Travel abroad was slow, arduous and beyond the pockets of even the most thrifty.  So they fought for democratic change.  There were no aid agencies, NGOs, or social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, to gift or encourage mass demonstration.  There was only the arduous, painstaking process of demanding, expecting and gaining advances though people-power, through revolution.  This could take centuries to attain, and often did.  These modern (Western) democracies weren't achieved in a year, a decade, even a single lifetime.  They were attained by a war of attrition.

Take the Russian Revolutions of 1905 then 1917, for example.  They created change resulting in yet another authoritarian regime of another hue - Communist.  Russians knew of nothing but repression.  An autocratic Monarchy had been subdued by democrats, later overthrown by Marxist-Leninists who slaughtered the monarch and ilk.  Communists lost power some seventy years later, yet they were only superceded by a clever team of oligarchs.  So, Russians who've never ventured abroad have never experienced free, fair, transparent and liberal democracy.  But they will, presumably, in the fullness of time when they, themselves, demand nothing less.   Perhaps Facebook or its successor will speed this process, who knows?

When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk took over Turkey in 1923 at the fall of the Ottoman Empire, he devised a progressive secular state, extraordinarily modern for its time.  After he had gone, despite consistent attempts at democracy the Army as guardians of the secular constitution swept away perceived inefficiencies whenever democrats overstepped the mark or attempted to curb the Military's over-arching power.  Only now, some 85 years on, has genuine democracy taken hold - and it's a shining beacon of freedom amid a region racked by tyranny.

Of those countries to have happily achieved the liberal democratic goal?  The reward for this endless patence, this celebrated progress is a constant influx of people from afar seeking instant gratification, state healthcare, state housing and free education for themselves, offspring, extended families and friends.

There may be no solution to this dilemma.  For, as long as there is modern media, the stream will flow.  But for the Europeans - decent, humanitarian and hospitable, or not as may be - there is no respite.  Walls, fences, other defences will not solve this problem, will never stem this tide.  "Can you stop the rain?" poigniantly asked an African exile living in Edinburgh when discussing this theme. 

The solution lies in the development of democracy everywhere, so people can live with dignity, security and freedom.  They will not be assisted by outsiders, as almost all charitable aid projects, diplomatic or miliary efforts have proved.  Every time Americans attempt to impose their concept of democracy on to a foreign state has failed.  Maybe, partly because so little is understood in the US of the culture of such places.  And so little respect is afforded to those cultural norms.  It's a costly and fruitless exercise.  

Local people can be encouraged to dissent, to push for change and to stay the course at home.  

Yet it's dicey for Western powers or NATO to do this without incurring accusations of interference in the domestic affairs of foreign sovereign states.  Yet, expatriate foreign nationals emanating from emerging countries consistently disrupt the domestic affairs of Western nations by settling in droves and pressing their needs or expectations of cultural conformity onto local inhabitants. 

So, any marketing exercise for democracy is possibly best executed through the use of the very same modern media employed by the armies of restless protestors around the world today.  The rewards of empowering people in far-off states would be huge, for the West, for the downtrodden foreigners themselves and for their homelands.

For years, Brazilians sought advancement abroad.  Now the economy is turning, change is underway, favelas are slowly being leveled, corrupt politicians hauled before courts, entrepreneurs making economic waves, and the future looks pretty bright.  Emigrant flows are slowing, the people more than not choosing to remain at home and Brazil is richer for their contribution.  Brazil's experience is echoed by Indonesia's and others.  But change everywhere is labouriously slow.

In the end, people ought to demand their own improvements and be prepared to stay the course, as anything less is capitulation.  The human spirit expects more.  So, undoubtedly, does Italy.

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