Imigração, Itália, Refugiados

One night. One boat. One dream. One escape. 368 lives.

Today, October 3, we remember the day when Europe turned on the yellow light. A small island in the middle of the Mediterranean called “Lampedusa”, on the extreme southern of the continent, was the scene of a great tragedy that, four years later, became a symbol of the drama faced by thousands of people who risk themselves in the immigration route of the Central Mediterranean every day.


Perhaps you, who are reading this text, have never heard about this small island or even have no idea of the difficulties experienced daily in the Mediterranean waters. His “ignorance” is justified: Out of sight, out of mind.

Clandestine immigration routes to reach Europe with people from the Middle East and Africa have existed for many years, as well as humanitarian tragedies of the same duration and painful consequences. However, to paraphrase Max Gonzaga, “all tragedy only matters to me when it knocks on my door”, and precisely because of that, October 3, 2013, is sadly remembered, since it marks the day when Europe could no longer put the dirt below the carpet.

To illustrate, watch the small videos below:

A fishing boat drifting in the Mediterranean crowded with people

The boat, like so many others, was an old 20 meter fishing boat “adapted” for the people´s transport that left the port of Misurata, in Libya, two days before. About 543 immigrants/refugees from Eritrea, an old Italian colony that currently has the 179th Human Development Index rank (out of 193 evaluated countries) and which, since 1998, has been experiencing intense internal fighting, especially in border areas with to Ethiopia.

During the night, half mile (800m) before reach a small islet near Lampedusa, in order to draw attention of other boats that were passing by, a towel was soaked in gasoline and fired. As a result, this situation caused the panic of those who were there and, shortly after, with the movement of the people and the uncontrolled fire, the shipwreck was unavoidable, occurring at 5 o’clock in the morning, as the clock shows in one of the bodies rescued.

Earlier in the morning, some fishing and civilian boats alerted the authorities, because they had saw bodies at sea and some people who still managed to stay alive. The recovery of the bodies lasted days, many of them attached to the boat 46 meters under the water, since they traveled in the lower floors, as it demonstrates the video below:

Numbers from the tragedy of Lampedusa


368 deaths, including 9 children, and 20 missing, all of whom sought freedom and security. According to reports of the 155 survivors, two boats (with similar description of those used by the Italian Coast Guard) approached shortly before and did not give aid. That would have been the reason for the fire, seeking to draw attention.

The boat’s driver, Khaled Bensalam, a Tunisian 35-year-old, treated as a smuggler, was sentenced to 18 years for manslaughter, while the Italian court recently closed the omission of relief inquiry, considered ” inconclusive”.

Since then, in recent years, according to the data from the International Organization for Migrants (IOM), an additional 15,062[1] people lost their lives on the Central Mediterranean Route, which leads to the terrible number of 10.3 lives/day (just remembering that this numbers are predictions, since there is no count of departures and not even all bodies are rescued).

Did something change?

A lot has changed as a result of this tragedy, in an Italian and at European level, such as the increase in search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. However, the migratory flow remains high and continuous. Only in 2017, according to the Ministry of Interior, 105,806 people arrived at the Italian ports.[2]

October 3 is, therefore, still a painfully and dramatically open wound in the heart of Europe, or, as Sergio Mattarella, the Italian president, characterized it as “a symbol of betrayed humanity”, a continent that is still “revolving around its own tail” regarding reception and integration, lost amidst unacceptable prejudices and racism.

Lampedusa, not for its beautiful Mediterranean landscapes, but for an unprecedented tragedy, is now known as “the door of Europe”, a gate that, for many, represents their lives and for 368 humans on October 3, 2013 , was locked.

Monument “Europe´s Door”, at the southern end of the Italian island of Lampedusa, in memory of the dead immigrants in the Mediterranean.


[1] Data from October 2, 2017, at the link:

[2] For more information on numbers, visit the Missing Migrants Project website:


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