Refugees and Migration

Create a place of freedom

At the launch of the project "Maldusa" on the island of Lampedusa and in Sicily, we spoke with the team about its importance in the fight for freedom of movement.


medico: On April 1st you start a project called Maldusa in Palermo/Sicily and on the island of Lampedusa with the support of medico international, Pro Asyl and United4Rescue. Where does the name "Maldusa'' actually come from and who is behind the project?

Maldusa-Project: Last year, Watch the Med Alarm Phone received a phone call from a group of people who were at sea, and they had lost their orientation. The Alarm Phone member asked them whether their destination was Malta or Lampedusa. The people repeated several times that they were directed towards Maldusa. Since then, many of us started dreaming of building an island in the Mediterranean Sea, named Maldusa, where people could arrive and be free. We have not managed to build an island (yet!), but when we created this new association we decided to name it Maldusa.

The project is composed of members of different associations and groups who struggle for freedom of movement, and who came together to think about how to bring our struggles to a different level, beyond rescue, beyond emergency, and to connect existing struggles, communities and organisations on the North and South of the Mediterranean Sea. 

What is the project about? What is your goal?

Our goal is to contribute to the existing constellation of Search and Rescue actors by bringing together different realities, creating new conversations and new alliances between them. Our aim is to support solidarity at sea, reinforcing and facilitating existing infrastructures for freedom of movement. Our slogan, ‘facilitating freedom of movement’ follows from what other groups already refer to as ‘SAR: Solidarity and Resistance’. Our aim is breaking with current humanitarian narratives around saving vulnerable and suffering people, as well as with narratives of criminalisation of mutual aid and solidarity. We seek to facilitate, to support, to connect with, and to amplify existing struggles by placing the autonomy of people who cross borders at the center; we want to do this as a part of a broader repertoire of resistance to the border regime, not as a charity or humanitarian action. We do not want to depoliticise our friendships and connections with communities on the move because of fear of criminalisation, instead we want to strengthen these relationships and keep fighting hand in hand.

We also acknowledge that borders are not lines on a map, but they follow people on the move on each aspect of their lives, before, during and after the geographical borders are crossed. In our struggles against borders we therefore have to follow and anticipate the border. With Maldusa we try to intersect transversal struggles, acknowledging how borders define our social relationships, people’s freedom and people’s life condition and access to housing, health, labour, food and rights well after they are crossed. Our aim is to fight against all the borders and to create solidarity communities by connecting these intersecting struggles, from the sea, to the cities, to the mountains, to our homes, our friendships and our bodies. In this way Maldusa seeks to bring forward feminist and anti-colonial politics that, on the one hand, struggle against the pervasiveness of borders in our everyday life and create different communities and relationships, and on the other situates the struggle within broader historical and geographical global inequalities that create the current divisions. 

Maldusa consists of three sub-projects. A meeting center in the old town of Palermo, a documentation station on Lampedusa and a boat at the port of the island. Could you describe each of these projects?

In Palermo, Maldusa seeks to create a space of connection between organizations and communities that inhabit and traverse the city. The intent is to build shared moments to think from below about ideas and practices of struggle, critical research and knowledge against a system of surveillance, exclusion, bordering. Together with the communities involved, we are committed to organizing events, language classes, workshops, film screenings and book presentations.

In Lampedusa, Maldusa focuses on the one hand on critical research and documentation of structural border violence, and on the other hand on facilitating and amplifying practices of self-organization from below by people on the move. By building networks that unite migrant people's countries of origin and passage, the small island, and places of arrival, Maldusa aims to facilitate access to information and rights, create cultural events on the island, and denounce the Hotspot system of isolation and detention.

Finally, with the presence at sea, we intend to support people who may be in difficulties while crossing the Mediterranean Sea, and to propose critical documentation of the abuses, lack of assistance and violence perpetrated by differentEuropean actors at sea.

Different tools and different paths to facilitate freedom of movement!

What is the current situation of people who make it from Tunisia and Libya to Lampedusa and then transferred to the mainland? (Situation of the hotspot camps on Lampedusa and Italy etc.).

People who make it from Tunisia and Libya to Lampedusa face different kinds of problems, which can be synthetized under two macro areas: accommodation (reception/detention) and access to asylum.

After arrival, people do often face inhumane first reception - but de facto detention - conditions in the Hotspot. With a capacity of about 38950 places, the Hotspot rarely hosts less than 800 or 1000 people. At the moment, about 2000 people are there. Transfers to the mainland are not quick enough and systematic, so people are informally detained for long periods. e persone sono detenute in maniera informale - senza provvedimenti o convalida delle autorita - per tempi definiti e al di fuori da quella  the 72h threshold after which - according to the Italian constitution (art,13) - any form of deprivation of personal liberty should be validated by a judge, is widely overcome. Often, this illegitimate and arbitrary detention concerns those who would be more urgently in need of adequate care and accommodation in a dedicated facility such as unaccompanied minors, people with serious health problems, and so on. 

Secondly, starting in 2015 with the Hotspot approach, the categorization between those who are supposed to be asylum seekers and those who are labeled as economic migrants has become a priority for the EU. While the first can seek asylum and be transferred to reception facilities, the second are given orders to leave the territory within 7 days and/or are channeled through detention and deportation pathways. The Hotspot is the place where this categorization takes place. A key tool for this categorization lies in the so-called SCO list, which includes several problematic countries, such as Tunisia and that Italy has recently extended to include Gambia, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Georgia. 

The main issue - transversal to both kinds of problems - and which often persists along reception pathways on the mainland is the very limited access to information. Some of the people we are in touch with had really no information about the geographical place they were being sent to, about the kind of facility they were living in, about their - at least theoretical - rights in Italy. With Maldusa, we seek to analyze and challenge this situation, both by making it visible and by supporting the people who are directly affected by it.

At the end of February, around 100 people died in the sinking of a boat coming from Turkey off Crotone in southern Italy. On March 12, 30 more drowned making their way to Italy from Benghazi/Libya. Who is responsible for these deaths and what is Maldusa aiming to do against this? (EU border regime etc.)

With our presence in Lampedusa, unfortunately, we witness shipwrecks almost on a weekly basis. It is very important that events like the Cutro shipwreck receive public and political attention for weeks, and that families of the missing as well as survivors are listened to. This, however, should not be the exception. With Maldusa, as well as with other organizations and groups involved in the struggle for freedom of movement, we witness, document and denounce violence and death at sea on a daily basis, but too often this is invisibilised or ignored. We also have to be careful that events like the terrible Cutro shipwreck are not portrayed as ‘exceptions’, ‘inevitable accidents’ or results of mistakes. Unfortunately, this is the norm, not an exception, and the result of border policies that intentionally make border crossings violent and deadly for the most. This is part of the work we do with Maldusa: placing these events into a broad political context, and making visible that border violence is the result of political decisions. As this violence is willingly inflicted every day, it can also be willingly prevented and avoided by abolishing the border regime and making freedom of movement a reality.

With the neo-fascist Meloni government in Italy, the hurdles for sea rescue and solidarity with migrants are getting higher and higher, how do you as Maldusa project prepare for this?

Maldusa's aim, through careful monitoring and observation work, seeks to highlight all the contradictions, potential harms and political mistakes emerging with the new legislation, which makes it harder and harder for the civil fleet to conduct Search and Rescue operations (Decreto-legge 9 March 2023). We denounce and campaign against this new political climate, in collaboration with and in support of all organisations that, like us, are struggling for freedom of movement. The aim is to counter the existing political framework with concrete actions, avoiding to be repressed by what is imposed by 'competent authorities' that are unable to guarantee timely rescues at sea and safe ports of disembarkation.

Published: 03. April 2023

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