Everyone Is an Immigrant

Two paramedics, a man and a woman wearing green and blue scrubs, toss biscotti to seagulls. They glance out at the open ocean. Behind them, at the old port, their empty ambulance waits. A lone jogger, wearing a sweaty knee brace, runs around the parking lot. He, too, keeps his eyes on the Mediterranean Sea. Although he looks like a tourist, he’s probably a policeman.

The island of Lampedusa is overrun with law enforcement types and immigration agents. Along with relief workers and journalists, leery policemen fill the tourist hotels, restaurants, and beaches. The town is a town of well-muscled men, impeccably tanned. They aren’t my type, frankly. Clad in their tiny white spandex banana hangers, some even brought their girlfriends along on this phony business trip. Their job is supposed to be to police the thirty-seven thousand African refugees who’ve arrived on this island of five thousand. Later, that number will spike to fifty thousand. This massive diaspora is just one side effect of the Arab Spring; it’s also a business. To keep this refugee crisis under control—and to monitor who heads north—Italy collects money from the rest of the European Union. It’s a spectacular show when the open, wooden boats come in, people huddled against the gunwales. In this human drama, the police are the supporting actors. So are the journalists like me, struggling against the cordon to talk to arrivals. So are the paramedics. We are all waiting for refugees.