I am pretty sure you have not heard about one of the nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize, not a famous one; most people do not even know about its very existence.
The city of Lampedusa on the island that bears the same name has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 2014. Lampedusa is a small island (much smaller than Sicily) between the Italian and Tunisian shores, closer to North Africa than to Italy. Why has such a place been nominated? And why is this good news?
Just to give an idea using numbers, the small island is home to 6,300 people and over the years tens of thousands of immigrants coming from both Africa and Asia have been rescued and brought to Lampedusa. Thousands have died at sea (at least 19,144 since 1988) and many of them have been buried on the island. At the worst point in Lampedusa’s history survivors outnumbered by far islanders and locals had to make up for limited infrastructure and resources available. It is easy to think exclusively about the people who successfully make it to Italy, Spain or Malta, although if they were not from poor countries we would probably focus a lot more on the loss of precious lives, like the people of Lampedusa tend to do.
After immigrants mostly from Eritrea and Somalia died in mass off its shores on 3 October 2013 a great number of people in Italy and abroad signed a petition to nominate Lampedusa for the Nobel Peace Prize 2014 to both praise the caring and patient inhabitants of the island and draw attention to the fact that there are unresolved issues to be urgently dealt with at a European level.
The petition has been signed by more than 55,600 people, ranging from average angry citizens to philosophers, writers and professors. The reaction stems both from the disappointment of the general population who have been asking politicians to at least discuss the issue in a serious manner, and the desire to thank people who have helped immigrants out of a sense of hospitality and humanity that the institutions have never shown.
The EU has spent billions to prevent people from leaving their countries. Has it worked? Well, I am sure it did not work out very well for the people who wanted to leave. People who have been covering or studying the issue agree that there is a pressing need for the implementation of new immigration policies to guarantee the rights of migrants and the creation of a humanitarian corridor to guarantee the rights of asylum seekers and refugees fleeing for example Syria or Somalia.
Giusi Nicolini, Lampedusa’s mayor, who struggles to raise awareness in Europe about what is happening on the island, asks: “Just how large exactly does the cemetery on my island have to be?”. Reminding people that they keep burying drowned bodies in a cemetery that is never going to be big enough for the magnitude of the massacre and understandably want to see an end to it. As I have already noted in my very first post, in times of crisis grabbing the attention of the EU when it comes to human rights issues is incredibly challenging.
Many in Lampedusa have given a hand to the people who make it to the island’s shore countless times, for nothing. Not for money, glory nor fame. This does not imply we should not recognize their beautiful humanity with a prize, and since desperate times call for desperate measures, we should take the opportunity to remind the European Union all lives are equally precious.
Compassion makes us European citizens. Xenophobia makes us selfish bystanders.
After all the prize would be good news but just a reminder.
It is up to us (citizens) to decide what we want to be…