BBC Home
Explore the BBC



Last Updated: Wednesday May 18 2011 12:28 GMT

Italian island sees thousands migrate from North Africa

Sonali at Lampedusa

Sonali reports from Lampedusa

A tiny Italian island off the coast of Africa has seen thousands of people fleeing unrest across North Africa.

More than 30,000 people this year alone have made the risky journey to Lampedusa, which is only 20 sq km in size.

Sonali's gone there to find out what it's like for the kids - most of whom are there without their families.

Sonali and Newsround cameraman Darryl prepare to broadcast from the roof of their hotel
About to broadcast from the hotel. Sonali's on a box to make her taller!

I'm on Lampedusa which is known for its white sandy beaches and its gorgeous turquoise waters, but over the past few months it's been making headlines for very different reasons.

The tiny place is an Italian island, but actually is far closer to Africa, which is why so many people running away from rebellion and violence in North Africa have turned up at the island's port.

People coming over make the crossing in rickety old fishing boats.

The journey's about 180 miles and can take up to four days. It's really tough.

All about Lampedusa
Map of the area around Lampedusa
It's in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea
The island is closer to Tunisia but belongs to Italy
Normally only 4,500 people live there
The island is tiny with an area of 8 sq miles

The boats are cramped and there often isn't enough food and water for the whole trip, which is why many people don't survive the long journey.

About 1,000 kids have arrived here from North Africa since the start of the year. While some of them come here with their families, most - nine out of 10 - are sent to Lampedusa on their own.

Imagine just how frightening that long journey would be without mum or dad.

It's a really tough journey. The United Nations says one in 10 people trying to escape the conflict in Libya either drown or die from hunger and exhaustion during the boat crossing.

I went to see the port where people arrive.

Sonali at the boat cemetery in Lampedusa
Sonali at the boat cemetery in Lampedusa

The boats that bring them are dumped across the road in what local people call the boat cemetery. In the wreckage are things left over from the journeys from North Africa - blankets, clothes - belongings of those who risked their lives to come here.

Reaching Lampedusa doesn't mean that journey is over. The kids that arrive on their own are taken to a migration centre where they're looked after, can call their family back home and get counselling.

Frightening time

Ahmed is a 16-year-old who came on a boat from Tunisia without his family. He told charity workers there were 75 people crammed onto the small boat, packed together like potatoes - and that the sea was rough and he was scared.

School girl living in Lampedusa.

Sonali chats to kids and a teacher who live in Lampedusa

While charity workers help the new arrivals, trying to cope with so many people just turning up on boats here has been tough for local people in Lampedusa.

And while child migrants who've arrived alone are always given the chance to begin a new life in Europe, the huge number of adults coming in to Italy from Africa has fuelled a big debate about how many of them should be allowed to stay.

If officials think it would be too dangerous for them to be sent home, they're given permission to live in Europe. But many others are sent back to where they came from.

We filmed one of the dozen planes of migrants about to flown from Lampedusa back to Tunisia. Even though some of them will have made a dangerous journey to get here, it just isn't possible for all of them to make a fresh start.