I don’t suppose that tourists, lured to Lampedusa’s Rabbit Beach, off the southern coast of Italy, voted the world’s best beach by the travel site TripAdvisor as having ‘snow-white beaches, unspoiled nature and the crystal-clear sea filled with life’, spare a thought to the island being the primary European entry point for migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. At least not until last week’s disaster in which some 300 migrants drowned in a desperate attempt to reach ‘Europe’. Lampedusa, I suggest, epitomises the paradox of European asylum policies at their most acute.
After Lybia and Italy reached a secret agreement in 2004 that obliged Libya to accept African immigrants deported from Italy, there was a mass return of many people from Lampedusa to Libya. This didn’t last and by 2006, African immigrants were paying Lybian people smugglers to help get them to Lampedusa by boat. On arrival, most were transferred by the Italian government to reception centres in mainland Italy. Many were then released because their deportation orders were not enforced. Read more
It was with great shock and sadness that we heard of Patrick Guerin’s sudden death last week. Above all, Pat was known to his friends and many others as a dedicated anti-racist. I first met Pat in 1998 when he enrolled in the MPhil in Ethnic and Racial Studies of which I was the coordinator for the first 15 years. He was challenging, original, and knowledgeable, bringing anti-racism into the classroom and was always keeping me on my toes – a true pleasure to teach. His MPhil dissertation was a set of life narratives of Irish anti-racism activists, but he managed to lose his computer file and to my great regret, never deposited the bound dissertation in the Department of Sociology, thus it is not available for consultation.
Teaching at Masters level means that some of your students and graduates become friends – Pat was certainly a friend. In 1999 he suggested we run a seminar in Trinity, titled ‘Emerging Irish identities’. Though I am a critic of the concept of identity, the seminar was a great success. It was organised jointly by us and by the National Federation of Campaigns against Racism, which, Pat wrote, was formed in March 1999, inviting affiliations from all open, democratic and non-party political groups campaigning against racism. Consisting of eleven groups, the NFCAR supported the right of immigrants to seek meaningful well paid employment; opposed the scapegoating of immigrants for the deficiencies of the Celtic Tiger and the deportation of what was then called ‘non-nationals’; opposed the discrimination against all ethnic minorities including Travellers and supported free movement for all. Concerned about the anti-immigrant hysteria, Pat linked this to his critique of Irish identity as overtly nationalistic, suggesting that ‘emerging Irish identities’ are anything but nationalistic or closed. His interest in anti-immigrant discourses was developed in a chapter he wrote for Racism and Antiracism in Ireland, which I edited with Robbie McVeigh, and which dealt with anti-refugee media discourses in the early 2000s. He developed his writing and editing skills in Asyland, a journal he edited for the Irish Refugee Council for which he worked as an outreach worker. Read more
A woman died. A day after Diwali, when the Irish Times had a front page image of a lovely little Indian boy lighting Diwali candles, it had another beautiful Indian face on its front cover, this time of a woman who died in an Irish hospital. Savita Halapanavar has since become a household face, even if we are not entirely certain on how to pronounce her surname, and a symbol of the oppression of women, whose lives and health are put at risk in Ireland’s maternity hospitals.
The minute details of the circumstances of Savita Halapanavar’s death are yet to be ascertained. Savita was in her 17th week of pregnancy, presented at Galway University Hospital with severe pain in her lower back, sent home because the foetus’s heartbeat was sound, came back to hospital with her waters broken, told the foetus’s heartbeat was still sound. When she was still having pains, Savita, clearly aware she was miscarrying, asked for a termination to be told her foetus’s heartbeat was still sound, and, as ‘this is a Catholic country’, she could not have a termination. Her reply that she was not a Catholic, not even Irish, was of little help. Savita suffered until her foetus’s heartbeat was no more, at which stage septicaemia set in and Savita died along with her foetus. And a day after Diwali her picture adorned our screens and newspapers and we held vigils and demonstrations, saying ‘we are all Savita’, declaring ‘never again’ and demanding that the government enacts the long-promised legislation, 20 years after the Supreme Court ruling in the x case, to protect the life of birthing mothers. Abortion was again big news as the ‘Pro Life’ and ‘pro choice’ camps battled it out over Savita’s dead body.