Moussa Koulibaly, the Lampedusa mediator
Moussa Koulibaly's is one of the first faces seen by migrants disembarking at the Favaloro dock in Lampedusa, the first place in Italy that almost all people trying to reach Europe through this Central Mediterranean route set foot on.
At the age of 30, for a few months he has been working as a cultural mediator for the Lampedusa outpatient clinic, a small Italian island of just 6,000 inhabitants, the southernmost of the Pelagie Islands, which has become the main entry point for immigration irregular in Italy. It is only 70 nautical miles from Tunis, about 112 kilometers. Much closer than Sicily, more than 200.
Koulibaly not long ago did this same route. He left his native Guinea Conakry, and crossed Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Algeria and Libya until landing in Italy in 2017.
The reception center has a capacity for 400 people, but these days there are times when it reaches 2,000
“From the way they see me, and how I speak their language, they already have hope. When they disembark and see a black boy who speaks with their accent, they think that if I arrived in a boat and I made it, they can too," he explains, proudly, before getting to work on one of the many landings he attends. every day in Lampedusa.
The Government of Giorgia Meloni in Italy has tightened the laws against NGOs: it forces them to disembark in ports far from the Central Mediterranean, to not be able to rescue more than one vessel per trip or to face penalties of tens of thousands of euros if they do not. comply. This week, five organizations have denounced before the European Commission this law that restricts search and rescue activities at sea. But only 15% of the landings do so through humanitarian ships. The vast majority arrive autonomously on the island of Lampedusa. So far this year, more than 50,000 people have passed through here.
The operative, at the dock, works like clockwork. One of the coast guard boats arrives with a hundred rescued people and several policemen from various Italian law enforcement bodies begin to help them get off. First, the women and children, who descend together with an endless number of precarious boats that end up tied to this dock until they are transferred to Sicily to be dismantled. Afterwards, they line up for three doctors to examine their state of health in case they need first aid. They ask them if they are okay, if they are dizzy, if they are diabetic or asthmatic, they examine their wounds or look for traces of possible contagious outbreaks, such as scabies, which has been very common lately in Lampedusa.
Lampedusa's cultural mediator downplays the matter with bad jokes. Everyone looks at him for support or to facilitate the translation with the doctors of this first emergency. Her return trip to the dock began in 2019, when his lawyer suggested that she enroll in a linguistic and cultural mediation course, since she speaks eight languages. It is essential: without it, communication would not only fail on landing, but also in the clinic, where more serious cases are treated. Critics must go by medicalized plane to a Sicilian hospital.
One of the women who has just arrived is seven months pregnant and has vomited a lot during the trip. Her daughter, barely three or four years old, has a lost look. They have many questions. “Some do not know that it is a small island, from which they cannot leave except by plane or boat. Many of the women have never made a visit to the gynecologist, which for us has a significant cost. This is where my job comes in to make them understand that it's totally free, and then they get carried away and tell their problems”, says Koulibaly from the dock.
The men arrive barefoot, some with ugly sores on their feet. It was one of the easy days, when you don't have to identify corpses and there are no serious injuries with fuel burns. This time they come from Sfax, in Tunisia, where most of the boats that now arrive in Lampedusa depart from. Then they all get on some Red Cross buses in the direction of the hotspot , the reception center for immigrants on the island, which has a capacity for about 400 people, but these days there are times when it reaches 2,000. They do not spend more than two days there: the Ministry of the Interior transfers them daily in two military ships of up to 500 people to Sicily, to centers with greater capacity. The tourist that fills Lampedusa these days, if he doesn't want to, doesn't see them.
"I look at myself in the mirror. When I arrived I was like them, who arrive jobless, wet, sometimes injured, with health problems... They allow me to keep my feet on the ground and remember how lucky I have been”, says Koulibaly, before the next landing.
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