The Malta Independent 18 September 2019, Wednesday

Europe begins in Lampedusa: Gozitan youths take part in project commemorating migrant tragedy

Tuesday, 28 November 2017, 09:34 Last update: about 3 years ago

By Mariella Debono (photo below)

On 29 September, a group of three students attending Sir M.A. Refalo Sixth Form, Gozo, Malta, (Corrine Zahra, Jolene DamitzSamhan and Jessica Cassar) accompanied by Sociology teacher (Mariella Debono) left for Lampedusa. 

The driving force was the ‘Europe Begins in Lampedusa’ project organised by the Comitato 3 Ottobre and the Ministerodell’Istruzione, Universita e Ricerca in Italy in collaboration with the European Union and the Ministerodell’Interno, Italy. 

The Gozo Sixth Form was chosen to represent Malta with Corrine Zahra’s essay on migration.  Corrine Zahra’s participating essay on migration will be part of a permanent exhibition at the Youth Section of the Museum of Trust and Dialogue in Lampedusa together with the other participants’ work. 

The ‘Europe Begins in Lampedusa’ project is in its second year and is organised to commemorate the 3rd October 2013 tragedy in which over 300 migrants lost their life before reaching the shore of Lampedusa.

31 Italian schools and four European schools (Austria, France, Spain and Malta) participated in the project. 

This was a unique experience for all those present, students and teachers alike.  The opportunity to interact with people from different parts of Europe sharing ideas and opinions in various languages is a rich educational experience in itself. 

However, the project went further than that.  It aimed to take participants closer to the reality of migration.  Workshops on migration were carried out by international organisations.  The Maltese students took part in a workshop on Migrants Rights by Amnesty International, and a workshop on Human Trafficking by the International Organisation for Migration.

The activities culminated in a students’ march on 3rd October from Piazza Castello in Lampedusa to the Door of Europe.  The President of the Italian Senate, Pietro Grasso, the Minister of Education, Valeria Fedeli, the UNHCR representative, StephaneJaquemet, the Mayor of Lampedusa, Salvatore Martello, Father MussieZerai, and the Archbishop of Agrigento, Card. Francesco Montenegro accompanied the march. 

Following the march, all participants were taken out at sea on board fishermen’s boats, accompanied by the Italian Coastguards.  Flowers were laid at the point where the tragedy occurred as a sign of remembrance, respect and prayer.  It was an emotional and unforgettable moment for all.

The students could further empathise with the reality of migration when they met the survivors of the 3rd October tragedy at the L. Pirandello School.  Both students and survivors had the opportunity to ask each other questions and learn about each other’s experiences.  Equality and respect for all human beings were called for and emphasised in an ambience of cultural diversity.

On our way back to Malta, Jolene, one of the students I was accompanying, passed this comment, “Miss [she told me], one of the survivors had very beautiful hair.  I wish we are still there in front of them so I can tell her, ‘I have no questions to ask, I just want to tell you, you have beautiful hair’”.  It is this level of humanity that projects like Europe Begins in Lampedusa can promote to ‘protect people, not borders’.

A student’s perspective

By Corrine Annette Zahra

For many people around the world, the 3rd of October is another regular day of the year but for 150 people in particular, the 3rd of October was the day they lost their family and friends whilst crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

On the 3rd of October 2013, their boat was only a few kilometers away from the shore of Lampedusa when it started to sink and took the lives of an estimated 300 innocent people.

Human lives are still being thrown away like this five years later.

Europe Begins in Lampedusa

I was grateful to have been chosen to participate in the Lampedusa Begins in Europe project which I won from Malta with my entry called 17/7/2017 in which I discussed the many factors regarding international immigration and my own relation to immigration.

The project was organized by the ComitatoTreOttobre which is an organization that spreads awareness about immigrants, their conditions and the 3rd of October 2013 shipwreck.

After five days in Lampedusa, the project truly left an impact on me.


Unfortunately, we do not know what is going on around the world. Before I went to Lampedusa, I did not know that people in Africa crossed deserts to reach Libya, faced oppression by governments, paid €20,000 to get on a boat to escape, spent over twenty-four hours at sea with harsh conditions and those women who survived the trip were human trafficked in Europe by underground organizations for prostitution or for organ usage.

My friends and I got to meet some of the survivors of the 3rd of October 2013 shipwreck; one in particular who had recently come to Malta and had been interviewed on Xarabank. One of my friends, who speaks some Arabic, was able to communicate with this man and his wife who had survived the shipwreck. He showed us his interview on Xarabank and I was overwhelmed.

The man standing in front of me was arrested for two months for no reason, he was electrically shocked in his private places and when he did escape with his family, he lost two of his sons in the shipwreck and their bodies were never found.

When the interview was finished, I was still in disbelief. This man in front of me did not know what safe living was. This man facing me suffered so much that I had to cringe. I felt ashamed that I had a privileged life with no fear of what my government would do to me when this man in front of me passed through such atrocities.

I felt the need to do something. He told me that all I could do was to raise awareness about migration however I wonder how many innocent lives need to be wasted before real action is taken. Why do people need to suffer like this? When will people stop crossing the Mediterranean because their countries are safe? He said to me that migration will never end and I lost a little hope that these people would get their well-deserved peaceful lives as human beings.

Laham u Demm

Altogether, thirty-one schools from across Italy and four schools from France, Spain, Austria and Malta, were brought together for this student project in Lampedusa. We had the opportunity to meet the survivors of the 3rd of October shipwreck and asked them questions.

One of the survivors gave an incredible speech in Arabic. As we all know, Maltese originates from Arabic. I personally still could not understand what the man had been saying in Arabic however I did understand two words which were “laham u demm”. I did not need someone to translate for me what the man had been saying because I had understood.

The colour of our skin should not divide us. We all have flesh and blood. We all have feelings. We all have family. We are all human. Why should one be judged due to his skin colour or where he comes from? We are living in 2017 yet the world is still racist. People seem to forget that humans come in all shapes and forms. People seem to forget that we live together in this world and today the Africans are migrating to Europe; someday we might need to migrate to Africa. Our world is a small world that everyone calls home therefore why do we not treat each other like brothers and sisters? Why is the want for war stronger than the want for peace? 

I quote from my entry;Moreover, as a seventeen-year-old who is still growing and will someday face the world on her own, I must come to terms with the fact that there are people who suffer unfortunately due to what has been implemented in the minds of others and such things are poisonous. Why should innocent people suffer? That is the question I ask and the question you should ask too. The answer is complicated and unfair. Then, together you and I must unite to solve the problem and the solution is quite reasonable and that, my friend, is the way we help these people.”

Check out these links for more information regarding the ComitatoTreOttobre, migrants and the Europe Begins in Lampedusa project. Make yourself aware.


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