Accepted Paper:

An ethnography of the migrants landing: the case of Lampedusa (Italy)  


Gianluca Gatta (University of Naples "L'Orientale")

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses some topics related to a fieldwork in an Italian area of arrival and confinement of boat people. The analysis will approach the liminar passage of the migrants from the sea to the camp and the local representation and use of the phenomenon.

Paper long abstract:

Based on a fieldwork in the island of Lampedusa, the main place of arrival of unwanted migrants from Africa to Italy, the paper deals with the issue of what happens before the confinement of the migrants in the centre dedicated to their administrative detention. This is a "space of exception" closed even to human rights organizations and, very often, to Members of the Italian and European Parliament. This restriction has induced me to focus my observation on the treatment of the immigrants' bodies at the landing quay, where Médecins Sans Frontières and Border Guard aid and discipline the newly arrived migrants in order to transfer them to the camp.

Working "under the shadow" of the inaccessible space of the camp permits us to discover a grey zone, open to a mediatic eye, where takes place a "spectacle of the border" in which the salvage of desperate people and the arrest of dangerous illegal aliens are somehow indistinct. Such an ambivalence has great consequences in providing material to the illegal immigration discourse, producing the immigrant as bare life and obscuring the legal production of illegality and the political instance of the border crossing.

Finally, the paper analyses the representation of the phenomenon produced by the population of Lampedusa, an island with a tourist-based economy. It is shown how the presence of an institutional "machine" physically separating the boat-people from the public places has become a strategic object against whom is possible to articulate some political claims on local issues.

Panel W043
Alien confinement in Europe: field perspectives