Purgatory in Paradise: What Lampedusa Tells Us About Our Climate Future

The tiny island of Lampedusa sits 70 miles off the coast of the North African nation of Tunisia, its nearest neighbor. But politically, it belongs to Europe – more specifically, to the government of Italy and the European Union. It is, in many ways, a quintessential borderland.For many African and Middle Eastern migrants and refugees, it is the closest path to survival and hopefully, prosperity in the European Union. It is seen by some as a paradise on the horizon. But that paradise is also a purgatory. The island houses a “holding facility” that takes in tens of thousands of migrants and refugees a year, dwarfing the local population. The relationship between these migrants, the holding facility, and the local inhabitants of Lampedusa, is very tense. On top of this, a changing climate, and its effects on water and food security in vulnerable states in North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Lampedusa itself, may exacerbate an already tense situation. Extended droughts, increased freshwater scarcity, changes in fisheries and other stresses, will put additional strains on populations in both the places of departure, and the destination.

But the situation in Lampedusa is far more than a local concern. The small island, a key point of entry for many African and Middle Eastern migrants and refugees, is a microcosm of the complex relationship between the European Union, Africa, the Arab world, and environmental change, set on a virtually invisible island (if you look at a map of the entire Mediterranean, Lampedusa is no more than a speck in the blue). Lampedusa also speaks to much larger issues of historic civilizational tensions, global environmental change, and international security. As the European Union struggles to find solutions to its own internal crises, a worsening migration crisis to its south could have significant implications for it, and the broader international community.

For the complete article, please see The Center for Climate and Security.