Global Migration, Local Impact – Lives on Hold in Lampedusa

Global Migration, Local Impact – Lives on Hold in Lampedusa

In 2017 UCL’s Grand Challenge of Justice & Equality contributed to the funding of a research project entitled, Global migration and local lives in the Italian island of Lampedusa, which examined the impact of migration and attitudes towards migrants on the small Italian island of Lampedusa. Dr Michela Franceschelli, Lecturer in Sociology at the Thomas Coram Research Unit, Department of Social Science, UCL’s Institute of Education and the PI of the study, produced a 30 minute film documentary to disseminate the project’s findings, entitled, CCÀ SEMU. Here we are, lives on hold in Lampedusa.  Below, Dr Franceschelli outlines the project’s work and illustrates how producing a documentary enabled the research findings to be presented in a more inclusive and engaging manner.

Lampedusa is Italy’s most southerly territory located 205km off the coast of Sicily and the first port of arrival to Europe for the thousands attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Between January and October 2016, 144,527 migrants have arrived in Italy, 69% per cent of them via Lampedusa (Interni, 2016). Differently from Greece, which constitutes the route to Europe for many Syrians fleeing war, the majority of migrants and refugees heading to Italy are mostly from Africa, particularly Nigeria (26%) and Eritrea (16%) (Interni, 2016). In autumn 2013, the island witnessed a tragic shipwreck just off its coastline where 368 migrants died while attempting to reach the mainland. With such a tragedy and with increasing numbers of incoming migrants, Lampedusa has become central to debates concerning European migration policy.  Because of this, media attention on the island has increased and Lampedusa has been portrayed as the ‘migrants’ island’ and the centre of the ‘Mediterranean migration crisis’.

Based on interviews with local residents and ethnographic fieldwork, the project explored what life is like for the local people of Lampedusa on the island today. Hence, the research project shifts the focus away from the rescues of migrants at sea and looks at the experiences of the local community. It particularly aims to understand what bonds and what divides the community; the perception of local people about how Lampedusa has changed; and what it means to be Lampedusan to them.

The film illustrates themes from the research and portrays the complexity of the lives on the island. It highlights the contradictions of a community which continues to feel at the periphery of Italy and Europe, despite now being at the centre of global attention.  The research found that the ‘crisis’ for Lampedusans was less about migration and more about the institutional failure of the Italian government, exemplified by complaints about poor quality public services such as schooling, transport links, and healthcare. In Lampedusa, the mismanagement of migration has come to be seen as just another symptom of the more general inadequacy of the Italian state, unable to meet even the most basic demands of the community.

The film documents the local population’s discontent with the government, which it shows has led to a general sense of resignation. As Franceschelli notes: ‘We felt this sense of resignation was expressed well by the Sicilian saying, often used by research participants ‘CCÀ SEMU’, which we translated into English as ‘here we are’’.  This phrase testifies to the feelings of both a hope and need for change, but also an acknowledgement of an awareness that the change demanded will be decided by those living outside the island.

The film was launched at a sold-out event at the Bloomsbury Theatre in March 2018. Since its launch, the film has enjoyed tremendous success. In July 2018, CCÀ SEMU. Here we are, lives on hold in Lampedusa won first prize as Best Documentary at the 2018 Taormina Film Festival and the film has also been screened at several festivals and events, including Verso Sud Film Festival, in Frankfurt. In addition, the project was awarded funding by the ESRC Festival of Social Science and included as part of an event on ‘Art and Migration in the Mediterranean Sea’ at the Horniman Museum in London in November 2018. As Franceschelli said: ‘‘Translating the project’s findings into a documentary film gave me the opportunity to reflect on the great potential of films to communicate research findings and engage with audiences that otherwise would never hear about social science research.”

The trailer for the film can be accessed here. The film was directed by Luca Vullo at Ondemotive Productions, with Director of Photography Daniele Banzato, Original Music by Giuseppe Vasapolli, Animation by Voilà Silvia and the researcher Dr Adele Galipò.