The world has seen a massive wave and flow of migrants and refugees, millions of people, especially in Europe. Can you define migrants and refugees? A migrant is someone who chooses to resettle to another country. A refugee is forced to flee his or her home country. The distinction is significant because it could determine whether the migrants are subject to deportation or eligible to stay. I spent over 20 years in San Diego, a border city and port of entry from Mexico. The major highways along the border had caution signs warning motorists to avoid immigrants darting across the road. It pictured a man, a woman and child with pigtails, running hand in hand. Apparently they are undocumented aliens who didn’t come through U.S. Customs. I believe those signs are gone now, but my memory returns to me whenever I’m reminded of the Mediterranean migrant crisis, shipwrecks and loss of lives
Fuocoammare is the title of my speech tonight. It is an Italian word “Fire at Sea”, a documentary film that won the Golden Bear in Berlin last year and nominated for an Academy Award this year. However, Fuocoammare did not win the Oscar. I haven’t seen the film but I understand Director Gianfranco Rosi expresses his compassion through a 12 year old boy Samuelle of a fishing family, at Isola di Lampedusa, an island halfway between Tunis and Sicilia in the Mediterranean. Samuelle loves to hunt with his slingshot. The name Lampedusa, nothing but sea oysters, hit the recent world headlines, as the first port of call for hundreds of thousands of Africans and Middle Eastern immigrants hoping to make a new life in Europe.
While Googling Lampedusa, I found a letter of appeal written by the island mayor to the EU. “If these dead are only ours, then I want to receive a telegram of condolences after every drowned person I receive, as if he were our son drowned during a holiday”. Her call for help went unheeded. However, the Italian Government started to direct funds to rescue refugees monthly. From the fishermen to housewives, from activists to coast guards, everyone on Lampedusa has a role in making it a paradise island for newcomers. Rosi commended the islanders who said they accepted all that came from the sea. Rose dedicated the prize and money to the people of Lampedusa.