From Lampedusa David Bradwell reflects on borders and refugees
Published on 5 October, 2017
David Bradwell, refugee co-ordinator for Scottish Churches Action for Refugees, is visiting Lampedusa, Italy to take part in a Protestant churches conference on borders and to attend a service commemorating the thousands of people drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to reach safety. He sent us his reflections.
The first thing I noticed about Lampedusa was the presence of uniforms. At the airport there was a military honour guard waiting to receive the Italian Interior minister. In the cafe where we had lunch yesterday four French helicopter crew in their jumpsuits sat at the table next to ours. As we left a team from the fire brigade came in.
I've seen more police around the island than I would have expected for a tiny community of just a few thousand inhabitants. They are a reminder that Lampedusa, a tiny speck of land 3km wide and 11 km long, is now caught up in the vortex of global forces which are driving displacement.
The island is situated some 70km from Africa; as an Italian possession it is the goal for many of the people seeking freedom from war and persecution from countries across Africa and the Middle East.
I am here for a conference that has been organised by Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI), the Church of Scotland's partner church in the country.
Where cultures meet
The theme of the conference is 'Living and Witnessing the Border' and has taken place in Palermo for the past few days. Sicily is at the centre of the Mediterranean, itself a sea that links three continents. For many centuries Sicily has been a place of the border, where cultures and people meet - from North, South, East and West. Etruscans, Greeks, Normans, Spanish - and many others.
The border was not a barrier but a place of exchange. A meeting place where diversity is an everyday reality of life.
Today the border has become a barrier, a wall which has a purpose to keep people out. This is despite our belief in human rights and protection for those in need - instead of offering protection and welcome to the stranger we live in a Fortress Europe; where the benefits of free movement and free markets are granted only to those already inside the borders. For the suffering of people outside, they risk everything to make the journey.
Last night we attended an ecumenical service in the church in Lampedusa's main town. This service was a commemoration of the massacre of more than 360 people on 3 October 2013. A boat carrying around 500 people got into difficulty less than a quarter of a mile from the coast of Lampedusa, and hundreds died.
We remembered the dead and the reasons why they and so many other thousands have died trying to cross borders all around the world. These deaths are the consequence of selfishness, richness, so-called 'security', militarisation, exploitation, slavery, human trafficking.
What price do we pay for a human life? What price do we pay for human dignity?
We have heard moving stories of people who have crossed the sea. We have heard from a Church pastor from Arizona, USA, who works a few miles from the Mexican border to provide water and aid to people fleeing from misery and suffering in the hope for life. And we have heard of the work of the FCEI, which through its programme Mediterranean Hope and with a partnership with the Sant' Edigio Community, has successfully established a Humanitarian Corridor, which sees vulnerable people being brought safely to Italy where they are supported and helped by local church groups.
This is an antidote to all the fear and distrust in the world. We hear that similar schemes are now being developed in France and it remains my prayer that the response of the Church remains steadfast and committed to human life, and that by our witness we can transform the lives of many and be a beacon to the world for goodness and justice.