The Mediterranean basin is experiencing a period of great transformation and instability. Mass demonstrations and political uprisings have been shaking Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria. More is likely to come. Not surprisingly in a period of transition and uncertainty, some people are moving out of these countries in search of protection, security or better life chances. Other people from neighbouring countries may also be taking advantage of the loosening of police and military control at the borders to buy a trip to Europe. So far so good.

On the other side of the Mediterranean sea, the Italian Government, desperate to divert attention away from Silvio Berlusconi and his mistresses paid using  Italian tax payers’ money, spotted the boats and decided to seize the opportunity. The story goes like this: first, some spontaneus arrivals (Lampedusa is only 70 miles away from Tunisia). Second, the Government ordered the navy to intercept and converge the boats full of migrants towards the tiny island of Lampedusa. The island with a population of approximately 6,000 quickly fills up with migrants and its small but wellknown centre of identification and removal for ‘illegal migrants’ (Centro d’Identificazione ed Espulsione) soon reached capacity. Third, having hyperbolically described the situation as a ‘biblical exodus’ (you can hardly hear this expression to describe the thousands of tourists invading Rome daily), the Government has declared the ‘state of emergency’ and given exceptional powers to a senior representative of the Ministry of Interior to deal with the situation. Fourth and final stage (for now), it has blamed the EU for having abandoned Italy and the news has been picked up by the international media – reaching its final intention.

The spectre of invasion by migrants has worked well in the past. It also sits very well with the xenophobic agenda of the Northern League and sections of Berlusconi’s own party. The ‘state of emergency’ – an instrument the Berlusconi government has used in the recent past to deal with the Roma and the garbage issue in Naples – may potentially succeed in regrouping and galvanizing his demoralised electorate against an ‘external’ enemy.

The questions I would like to see answered are: Was it so unpredictable that the current turmoil in the Maghreb would have triggered some migration outflows? Why has the Government decided to overcrowd the island of Lampedusa in the first instance? There are plenty of facilities on Italian mainland that could easily cope with such influx. But of course then, there wouldn’t have been an emergency to declare.

Once again, the Italian Government is cynically playing with the lives of hundreds of migrants to serve its agenda of self-preservation. Yet another emergency, yet another smokescreen. Will it work again? (Nando Sigona)