Syrian / Libyan Refugees Head to Sicily

Sicily and the off shore island of Lampedusa have been on the receiving end of a massive influx of refugees fleeing the chaos in Libya, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Syrian war.

Last Saturday alone more than 1,800 were rescued by the Italian navy and brought ashore. Sicilian churches have opened their doors, replacing pews and altars with beds in order to temporarily house the refugees. Italian government facilities have been overwhelmed by the increase in numbers – over 50,000 thus far this year.

Last October after more than 350 died just offshore when their rickety boat caught fire and sank, the government in Rome adopted the “mare nostrum” policy – “our sea”, It ordered the Italian navy to rescue and bring to shore all “boat people” fleeing from North African ports as an act of humanity.

Applications for political asylum are being processed as quickly as possible though nothing s easy in Italy. While documentation is in process many refugees are moved to mainland camps and are requested not to leave the country. Many however do escape and head north to the Italian border where family members from Germany, Sweden or France endeavor to pick them up

Most Syrian refugees landing in Italy are headed for Sweden (which allows a legalized Syrian to bring in his family) or Germany, where there is a large Syrian community.

Sicily however has begun to look upon the influx of refugees as an opportunity.

From the Daily Beast

“The picturesque Sicilian hilltop village of Sutera, just 50 miles south east of Palermo, has been a dusty ghost town ever since the locals started dying off and the younger generation started moving away about a decade ago. In its heyday in the 1960s, the village had a population of more than 5,000 people, but the town has been losing residents at a steady rate of about 100 people a year. More than 50 percent of the homes are vacant, and most of the stores shuttered long ago. Last year, the average size of an elementary school class was just six students.

But in the last six months, Sutera has started what could be considered a resurrection of sorts, springing back to life, thanks to an initiative by a group protecting the rights of asylum seekers called SPRAR (The Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees). They have convinced the Sicilian government that migrants and refugees might just be the solution for repopulating Sicily’s dying towns. Villages like Sutera get government grants to turn over abandoned houses and vacant stores to Italy’s newest residents who are mostly Syrian, Egyptian, Palestinian and Sub-Saharan African refugees.

One such Syrian refugee is making Sutera his new home. He fled Syria last year and landed on Lampedusa, off the Sicilian coast, last summer. He attempted to join his extended family in France before being turned away twice trying to get to Paris. Because he applied for political asylum in Italy, he is supposed to remain in the country (and refrain from using his name in the press) until the lengthy paperwork is completed. He heard about the Sicilian project and returned to the island. After he was given a home to repair, he decided to stay even longer. He and two other refugees—a Palestinian and a Nigerian—are now fixing up abandoned houses for themselves and their families in Sutera, using tools and supplies donated by the local government, while they wait for their wives and children to join them. “We are going to try to make our lives here. Sometimes opportunities present themselves in unexpected ways, and this is an opportunity for us.”

Of the 22,000 Syrians landing in Italy thus far this year, some 70% are headed to Sweden and another 21% for Germany. Some have decided to make Italy their home.

Sicily has a long history as a cultural crossroads for people moving between Arab countries, South Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The island was under Arab rule between 827 and 1061, at a time when the Arab world was far more advanced than any of Sicily’s previous rulers. The period was arguably the peak of the island’s cultural enlightenment, and its multi-cultural history is still present via architecture, cuisine and local dialect. Many of the grand basilicas in Palermo, Messina and Cefalu are topped with red domes that still have Arabic inscriptions carved into the walls, left in place when mosques were converted to churches. Sicilian dialect is filled with Arabic words like mischinu (taken from the Arabic word miskin), which means a poor person. Many older Sicilians still feel they are more connected to their diverse Arab and Middle Eastern past than to modern Milan or Europe.

Sicilians may have a long history of acceptance and tolerance, but not all Italians welcome the refugees. Projects aimed at helping migrants are facing renewed political opposition from within the country. The Italian government is asking the E.U. to share in the costs.

Forza Italia parliamentarian Maurizio Gasparri called the program utilizing the navy to rescue boat people a “taxi service”.

Even facing such an uncertain future, the refugee crisis shows no sign of abating. The Italian navy estimates that more than 600,000 refugees and migrants are waiting in North African ports in what has been described as a “biblical exodus”—all headed for Italy.”


Sutera, Sicily

About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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9 Responses to Syrian / Libyan Refugees Head to Sicily

  1. jmsabbagh says:

    Why not head to Saudi Arabia rich oil country its their refuge and the birth of their religion.The core of the terrorism is the oil money.


    • toritto says:

      Jalal – I agree that ISIS is funded by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait – our “allies”. And no one fleeing would even think about seeking refuge in Saudi Arabia! Many of the sub-Saharan refugees in Italy are Christians – and probably some of the Syrians as well. Regards.


      • jmsabbagh says:

        Great point Toritto,.l wish Europe and The West get all the Christians out of that Volcano region.which is going to erupt very soon.By the way in the late 1970’s over a million Christians fled those countries l was one of them..Regards.


  2. toritto says:

    Jalal – I am not surprised at all – I figured that out just reading your blog! 🙂


  3. I was really interested to listen to a press conference the Syrian ambassador to the UN called about a week ago. It featured various US observers of the Syrian election. What really impressed me was the fantastic turnout for the Syrian elections – over 70%. The US can only dream of that kind of turnout.

    I was even more impressed by the observation of several US observers that internally displaced Syrian refugees (and some from Lebanon and other Mideast countries) are beginning to return to areas the government has retaken from ISIS rebels:

    I think this has got the Israeli-US alliance really panicked – which explains the recent Israeli airstrikes on Syria:

    And Obama’s threats to retaliate against ISIS militants (many of whom have US passports: both in Iraq and in Syria.


    • toritto says:

      Hi Doc – I had to “approve” your comment again – and I normally don’t have to moderate anyone’s comments. Regards.


      • Could be all the links in it?


      • Ubed says:

        that one of the reason for this trend is that there is aldaery now in Sweden a large Syrian community wheres in Finland it has been almost non existent, until now. The other, more visible reason is that the current government has tighten up the migration policies. This has been due to the radical increase in popularity of the national party movement and its influence on the general attitudes on these issues.


  4. toritto says:

    Heehee – I have no idea! It’s never anyone else …but you! 🙂


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