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The elusive ‘Door of Europe’

Text by Benjamin DODMAN , in Lampedusa, Italy

Latest update : 2013-10-04

For years the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa has served as a gateway for migrants hoping to reach northern Europe. Its rugged coastline bears the traces of those who made it and those who didn’t.

The island of Lampedusa juts out of a narrow stretch of sea that separates the Mediterranean in two and has long been crossed by merchants, pirates and conquerors going either way.

Over the centuries, the rocky outpost circled by crystal waters has been overrun by Phoenicians, Greeks, Normans, Arabs and even the British during World War II.

But since then, the island’s only intruders have been tourists flocking from the north and migrants hailing from the south – unlikely invaders towed into port by the island’s watchful coastguard.

The migrants that are presently fleeing the unrest in the Arab world face the shortest journey, with Lampedusa lying a mere 205 kilometres (127 miles) from Tunisian soil, but also the most treacherous waters. Their northbound leap of faith is the very opposite of “costeggiare”, the age-old rule whereby one should sail along the coast and never lose sight of land, especially not with a small boat.

It is a perilous journey, as is the improbable trek by boat to Turkey and across the River Evros into Greece, which many migrants from Egypt and Libya are attempting at the same time.

Over the past 15 years, more than 13,000 people are thought to have perished attempting the crossing to Italy.

The tale of Lampedusa’s migrants, those who made it and those who didn’t, can be read in the monuments and cemeteries that dot the island, from the wrecked boats dumped on the shore to the monumental “Door of Europe” dedicated to those who died along the way.

 

Date created : 2011-03-06

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