Day 1: Lampedusa

Our journey to Lampedusa started with an early morning flight from Palermo. Lampedusa’s close proximity to North Africa and its southern location has made it the focus of a huge topic of debate within the European Union’s dialogue on migration and border control. Following Spain’s strong focus on monitoring the strait of Gibraltar and migration from Morocco in the early 2000s, migratory trends shifted from there to Lampedusa and increased greatly following the Arab Spring uprisings in both Tunisia and Libya. After the numbers of those using this central Mediterranean migratory route dropped from 39,800 in 2008 to 11,000 arrivals in 2009, the number of illegal arrivals spiked in 2011 with 64,300 illegal arrivals entering Lampedusa as seen in the below graph.

Yearly illegal arrivals using Central Mediterranean Route


*Please note that FRONTEX database in 2014 began combining the arrivals using this central mediterranean route with the Apulia and Calabria route which explains the huge increase in 2014.

Global attention dramatically focused on the “migrant crisis” evolving in Lampedusa, especially after the 2013 tragedy when at least 103 migrants lost their lives when the boat carrying them capsized making headlines throughout Europe. The tragedy of human loss attracted the attention of public and governmental figures who then visited the island, including Pope Francis. Even though the number of arrivals in Lampedusa has decreased since 2014, news reports still talk of the invasion of migrants and the role of Lampedusa as a major border – indeed – frontier of southern Europe.  A large reception center on the island that processes the new arrivals before they’re dispersed throughout Italy is on one side of the island, while the tourist attraction and center of town is on the other side. While in the last few years the migrant situation in Lampedusa has been the focus of many international news reports and documentary and feature film productions, it is also still famous for its beautiful beaches and the Isola dei Conigli (Rabbit Island), a wildlife preserve and one of the last places in the Mediterranean for turtles to lay their eggs.
As we flew over the Mediterranean and saw the shores of Lampedusa, I couldn’t help but think about all of the people who have crossed those waters and those who lost their lives in them. Even from high above, I could see the whitecaps and the violence of the waves. Our first interaction with the present migrant situation on Lampedusa started with our group sharing the plane ride from Palermo with a large unit of the Italian Police travelling to the island for their week-long shift in the reception center. These officers were responsible for registering incoming migrants into the FRONTEX system. In the plane there was also a customs officer whose job consists of appraising the boats and seizing them if they are abandoned. Both the migrants and the boats that carry them, are ‘technically’ considered goods entering the European Union. It was interesting to hear the personal opinions of a variety of people in regards to the situation in Lampedusa, particularly among a few of the officers. For instance one of the policemen stated that it was just his job, and that as for the migrants, there was nowhere else for them to go so even if they did want to try to escape, “it’s a small island with nowhere to go.”

Having spent the month prior to our arrival in Italy immersing ourselves in the relevant literature and filmography, such as the recently released documentary Fuocoammare and Terra Firma produced earlier in 2011 and Mare Chiuso, surrounding the political, cultural and emergency status of the Island of Lampedusa, there was a common uneasiness among our group while on the plane and then again at the airport, a feeling much more like one is entering a restricted zone rather than a beautiful Sicilian island in the middle of the Mediterranean. Additionally, once we stepped off the plane we were given a taste of the strong winds that hit the small island in the center of that sea, with strong gusts that whip up the ocean waves and as well as hats off people’s heads.. It certainly made us reflect on how many migrants faced similar, if not much more severe winds on the open sea while they made the dangerous voyage to Lampedusa.

As I was riding in the cab I was expecting to see the booming tourism business, native Lampedusian restaurants, and thousands of tourists. However we had come to the island during the winter season, so instead it seemed very desolate and quiet with various stores closed. However, this was not a bad thing, it allowed me to focus on my research and see Lampedusa in its off-season.
At first, the streets seemed empty though I  felt the carabinieri staring at me, as well as the locals of Lampedusa and African migrants.  Then at approximately 1 pm I began to see large groups of African people start to populate the large plazas throughout the downtown of Lampedusa. I had taken a guess that they were released from the reception centers nearby to get some fresh air. All of these migrants were men and they all were dressed the same with a black and blue jacket, black sweat pants, and they all wore green or yellow sandals. When I saw these people dressed in this attire I thought of the first African man I saw with the leather jacket. I had deduced that clothing could possibly be an indicator of how long these migrants had been on the Island. I also noticed that the African men who wore different clothes moved in smaller groups or alone and they interacted more with the Lampedusans. On the other hand, the migrants that I thought were new sat on the benches in complete silence.

As I observed the only thing that came to mind was the question: what are their dreams? I began to place things into perspective and look at my own clothing. I thought that this could be a reason why so many people are watching me. I was wearing a heavy black jacket that had brown fur in the inside of the hood, blue jeans, blue sneakers, and a black and white sox baseball cap. My thought stream was interrupted when I watched the police and carabinieri do their rounds in the neighborhood and I immediately thought of an outdoor prison. I began to investigate this thought further as I compared the structure and conditions of a prison: the migrants were on an isolated island from the mainland of Italy, they did not have money or the opportunity to have a job, the police monitored their movements, and all they could do was to think. Maybe a prison was too extreme, having this time to think in peace and silence might have been therapeutic for these migrants who may have just survived the traumatic act of traveling through the sea.
Since we all scattered for lunch (we wanted to explore in pairs so that we were more likely to interact with locals), we later shared our various experiences. One of our classmates, Maddie, recounts her interesting experience with locals as follows:

“As we continued to walk we passed a painting on a wall of a marine protection building that said “Protect people, not borders.”


I had seen and heard this phrase before, but seeing it in Lampedusa where it is so relevant was particularly impactful. Not far after that mural, we passed a dirt lot that had 10 wooden boats in it along with other vehicles. Many of the boats had what I thought was Arabic writing and designs on them and letter and number markings which were obviously not part of the original design. We realized that these are some of the boats that the migrants must have come on to Lampedusa. We walked again to the water and there was a fisherman there cleaning off his hands. He said hello and we asked him about the boats that were in the lot. He told us that they were boats that migrants had come on and that the letters determined who had found them (Coast Guard, Guard of Finance, etc). Eventually we were able to ask if he ever encounters the boats while he is fishing and he told us that he does all the time. When he does see a boat he said that he gives them water and tells them what their coordinates, perhaps so that they can call for a proper rescue. As we asked him (and other locals) more about migration, he seemed to get more distant. I wonder if this is because they are wary of journalists, if it is because they have to discuss it so often, or if it is a subject that they prefer not to discuss, or if it could be a combination of all of those. As we walked back into the center of the town, we saw a man who we think must have been an immigrant because of the similar jacket and pants he was wearing being interviewed by a journalist. This just confirmed that the media is constantly present on the island.”

The Besta School in Bologna – Integration Initiatives and our Interaction with their Middle School Students


Our group returned to the Besta School on Wednesday, February 24th in the early morning. We were looking forward to learning more about the institution’s initiatives in integrating diversely ethnic students, with particular attention given to newly arrived students from families with no Italian language background. Although this was a worthwhile focus, the school also provides opportunities to all students to learn English as well as German.

Besta 9Besta 5

 We started our day having the opportunity to interact with 24 students during their English lesson. At first, we struggled to communicate with the students, but within minutes we were able to surpass this initial challenge by using rhymes, gestures and music to truly interconnect, despite the obvious language barriers. The continual attempts and the whole group’s determination to understand and be understood, truly paid off as we worked on communicating individually and collectively.


Despite the initial timidity, the difficulties we had with our language skills became secondary. We truly felt interconnected despite of and also because of our limited abilities. The middle school age students were learning and practicing their English skills, often in need of help with words and expressions. Dickinson students and professors also needed help, since our ability to speak and understand Italian varied tremendously. This setting was extremely advantageous as we became interdependent in a most delightful exchange.

Our first common assignment was to work individually, creating our own version of George Ella Lyon’s poem “Where I Am From”. This would give each of the students an excellent opportunity to share something about themselves in a creative and self-expressive way.

Some ideas were written on the chalkboard in order to help the brainstorming writing process. Some of the words that were written on the board in both English and Italian were different names, types of music, food items, various feelings, smells, rituals, beliefs and activities.

IMG_1005Besta more

All students were invited to share a few lines of their creation in front of the group. Dickinson students shared some of their lines and Besta School students read some of theirs. This particular exercise emphasized the diverse nature and meaning of identity. It also helped active participants and spectators to feel safe as a unique person, while exploring their origins and life memories. This can be a sensitive topic and approach for the middle school age group, since they usually just try to blend in and belong without standing out.

For our Mosaic group it was very important to have a more accurate outlook on origins and migration experiences. Besta School students revealed a variety of backgrounds ranging from locals from Bologna (in the North of Italy) to southerners from Palermo. Students also shared their families origin from a variety of countries such as Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan and Albania, among others.

The second class we attended was a Math Lab, where a few students who are also learning Italian took turns participating in a practical exercise applying the concept and mathematical vocabulary they had been introduced to. It was clear that some of them were struggling but they were willing to attempt solving the math problems. The teacher used visual learning as the basis for class involvement and seemed very committed to student success despite the language barrier.


Welcome to Bologna: Macro and Micro Perspectives of Mediterranean Migration

February 21, 2016

“Forget the word ciao.”  This was the advice that Professoressa Clarissa Pagni gave us upon our arrival at the Dickinson Center in Bologna on Monday.  The first, and often only, Italian word that people know is ‘ciao,’ but as Professor Pagni told us during our orientation, what many people don’t realize is that this is the informal way to say hello and should only be used when greeting your peers or children or those you know well.  In most cases, the formal greetings ‘buon giorno’ (good day) and ‘buona sera’ (good evening) are more appropriate and are a sign of respect for people you do not know.

After our orientation, we enjoyed a comprehensive lecture from Professoressa Michela Ceccorulli, a professor at the University of Bologna and the Forum on the Problems of Peace and War (Florence) who also teaches at the Dickinson Center for European Studies in Bologna. Her talk, “The European Union and Migration: from Schengen to the Ongoing Refugee Crises,” outlined the many laws, policies, and agencies involved with migration.

She began with an overview of the European Union, which consists of 28 countries in Europe and the Schengen Area which includes many but not all members of the European Union as well as some non EU members. Under the Schengen Agreement of 1985, citizens of Schengen member states are allowed to move across the internal borders of the Schengen Area without being subjected to border checks. EU members which join the Schengen Area further enhance the rights of their citizens who are already guaranteed the right to work, travel, or live freely in all other European Union countries.




Understanding of the Schengen Agreement and the policies within the European Union is crucial for discussions about migration. Because of the lack of internal border checks within the Schengen Area, many migrants want to arrive in a Schengen state so that they can then travel within this area to work and live. It they are able to get to Italy or Greece or Spain, they then can freely move through or stay in other Schengen countries. Because of on-going economic and political crises in Syria, Libya, and Tunisia (and in other countries in Africa and the Middle East), a large number of migrants are crossing the Mediterranean sea. Currently, Italy and Greece are experiencing disproportionately high numbers of incoming migrants compared to the rest of the countries in the EU.  Professoressa Ceccorulli included the following graphs in her lecture which show the increasing numbers of sea crossings through the central Mediterranean to get to EU borders.



In order to alleviate pressure from the increasing numbers of migrants arriving at the EU’s borders, the EU introduced a border control agency called FRONTEX in 2005. It replaced Operation Mare Nostrum, an Italian governmental initiative which was dedicated to searching and rescuing boats of migrants in the Mediterranean.  Policies and agencies in the EU today are becoming more focused on deterrence rather than humanitarianism.

As she wrapped up the lecture, Professoressa Ceccorulli left us with some open questions about migration that are strongly debated today and that we hope to answer through our research in this mosaic: is there a link between migration and terrorism? Should migrants be integrated into the EU countries and if so, how?  Can the EU use migration as a solution to its aging and changing population? And most importantly, is the refugee crisis and the break up of the Schengen Area a threat to the EU?

Following the lecture that provided a macro overview, we learned more about migration from a grass-roots, micro, humanitarian perspective through an interview with Nago Ka, a Senegalese immigrant who lives in Italy. Today he works as a translator and interpreter for newly arrived migrants, especially unaccompanied minors, who are applying for asylum in Italy. One of the many poignant parts of this interview was when he shared with us that he does not have a TV or a radio because he “wants to think and to open the pathway against one dimensional thinking.” Unfortunately, the media today often portrays stories in a biased and linear way and gets readers and watchers to think too unidimensionally  (Maddie).

Meeting Nago Ka

He stood outside the Dickinson Center gates on via Masala in Bologna, Italy. He was well dressed, which communicated to me that he had established himself in Italy. Nago was an older man with graying edges to his hair. He waited patiently at the gates to be let inside the building. As I approached him he began to smile at me, and as a natural response, I smiled back at him. I was extremely excited because it was our first full day in Italy and I had been hearing about him since the beginning of the semester.  My professors had told me that Nago worked as a translator for migrants seeking asylum in Italy. Additionally, they told me that Nago works as a community activist for migrants and has played an instrumental role in helping immigrants establish safe spaces and cultural institutions to help create a better migrant experience in Italy.


He waked into the Dickinson Center with his hand cocked for a handshake and said “Buona sera. I’m Nago,” He had a firm handshake and he looked me in my eyes. I held his hand tightly and concentrated on looking him in his eyes to express my respect and appreciation for him visiting. Nago strolled confidentially like a person with great purpose. I could tell he was happy to be there and I knew I was about to learn a lot. Nago told me that he didn’t speak English but told me everything had been going well that day. As I led him to the lobby of the Dickinson center where he was met by Professor Borges and Professor Marini-Maio his smile grew even larger as he hugged the two people he was familiar with and they began to discuss the project and what they had planned for today. I focused on providing good hospitality by offering him drinks and snacks. This was extremely important to me because there was a language barrier between us and I wanted to make him as comfortable as possible. However, I realized that he had already made himself comfortable. He was open to everything and  told Professor Marini-Maio he had no problem being recorded, speaking in Italian, getting mic’ed up, etc. I was relieved and no longer felt nervous about the interview.


During the interview Nago captured my intellectual spirit several moments, especially when he said, “I don’t have a TV or radio because I just want to think.” When he said this I thought about how much social media, politics, and blogs attempt to undermine and influence our thoughts to support a certain political party. In a way, it seems as if the people who are in control of the media are trying to program our minds to be monolithic and to accept the news stories that they create. If we allow ourselves to fall into this way of thinking then we will lose our ability to analyze things in a critical manner and from a holistic point of view. It is extremely crucial that we, as citizens, are able to think for ourselves because it allows us to support or protest issues from our own measures of morality. If we were able to achieve this, the world would not be segregated into right and left wing political parties.

Nago’s knowledge on the ways the media and politics affected the identities of migrant communities motivated him to dedicate his time to helping new migrants. He said that he stressed the importance of knowing how to speak the Italian language well to these young African migrants. He said that knowing the language would afford them the respect of the Italian people. This reminded me of how young black men and women are viewed in America as uneducated and inarticulate if they don’t speak proper English. Nago referred to himself as a warrior who has been working to recreate the narrative for African migrants in Italy. He characterized the thought process of many Italians who thought of Africans in a negative light as one-dimensional. Italians who over generalize these African migrants as being thieves, lazy, and criminals miss out on meeting extraordinary people like Nago. However, Nago also acknowledged that African migrants play a role in the existence of these stereotypes. Nago cautioned   new migrants to not do bad things like stealing, no matter how desperate they are.

Nago through his work as translator, community activist, and educator continues to debunk the stereotypes about African migrants in Italy. Nago is a man of wisdom, conviction, and great moral character. Nago is a man whose hard work continues to make a positive impact on his peers who are African migrants, Muslims, and the youth. Nago is the type of man that one wishes to have as a father, uncle, and/or friend (Isaiah)

The purpose of this mosaic is to learn as much of the full story of migration as possible.  We spent one month before we arrived in Italy, reading and writing about the history, perceptions, and reasons behind migration.  I believe that I can speak for my classmates when I say that the amount of work we had caused many late nights in the library, but it expanded the depth and breadth of our knowledge of migration in ways that we could never have thought possible in one month.

As our mosaic begins working in the field in Italy, we are continuing to open our own pathways against one dimensional thinking, whether we are learning about the nuances of Italian greetings or the complex components of migration.  We hope that this blog will reflect the expansion of our knowledge of migration and that you will join us in shedding the one dimensional thinking that surrounds us (Maddie and Isaiah).