Selected Works

Nonfiction
A look at life in little-known mountain towns of the Sicilian hinterlands.
A true account of the last years of an ancient Sicilian giant bluefin tuna trap.






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Out of Palermo

267 rescued migrants arrive Pozzallo, Sicily with ship from Doctors Without Borders

June 25, 2017

Tags: immigrants, drowning, sicily, africa, trouble, border, europe, death, immigration, flow, people, africans, rescue, drowning

From today's Giornale di Sicilia:
267 immigrants arrive Pozzallo today, including three children and 27 women, aboard the Aquarius rescue ship of Doctors without Borders.
Among them 42 youths from Bangladesh and a boy from the Gambia with grave symptoms of malnutrition.
Their arrival follows another arrival Thursday at the port of Augusta, Sicily of 241 migrants rescued in four operations, along with four corpses of those who died on the journey.

Saved at Sea: Destiny from Nigeria

June 21, 2017

Tags: immigrants, drowning, sicily, africa, trouble, border, europe, death, immigration, flow, people, africans, rescue, drowning

From the MOAS Facebook page:

"My name is Destiny. I’m 23 years old and from Nigeria. I’m nearly 7 months pregnant with my third child. My previous two are 4 year old twin girls. They are with my mum back in Nigeria. My family is OK but we just don’t have the money to buy food for everyone. That’s why my husband and I left to find work. We got to Libya first but it’s bad there. Everyday there is killing, it’s dangerous. No one is happy there. We were in Libya for less than a year when we both got put in prison. I got out after two months but he’s still there. He told me go to Italy even without him. That was the last time he told me. I managed to pay a smuggler 1200 dollars to cross and an extra 150 for a lifejacket. I need to find a job to help my family. That's what I'm going to do in Italy. I’m sure God will help me."

220 dead or missing in three shipwrecks in 24 hours

June 20, 2017

Tags: immigrants, drowning, sicily, africa, trouble, border, europe, death, immigration, flow, people, africans, rescue, drowning

From La Repubblica today:

The only four survivors told the tale. They arrived at Palermo on the Italian Coast Guard ship Diciotti. On the worldwide day of the refugee, the UN announced the three incidents with some of the victims' bodies recuperated and some still lost at sea.

The first and biggest of these tragedies involved a rubber raft that left Libya on 15 June with 133 aboard , mostly Sudanese and Nigerians, that started taking on water just a few hours after departure. The rubber raft was abandoned after a few miles out to sea by the traffickers who came back to take the raft's motor, which caused it to go down.
The second incident involved a boat with at least 85 persons aboard which split in two before sinking. The people who watched the shipwreck said that they had left Libya together with two other vessels the evening of 15 June. There were many families with children aboard. Those lost at sea were primarily citizens of Syria and people coming from north Africa.
A third shipwreck caused seven deaths. The survivors disembarked at Messina, Sicily yesterday. They had left Libya on 14 June. A pregnant woman from Cameroon
lost her husband in the shipwreck.

I want to tell my readers that most of the African refugees don't know how to swim, and have never seen the sea before traffickers put them in un-seaworthy vessels and set them adrift with no pilot, no motor, no gas, no food, no water, no compass, no directions, just the clothes on their backs, so they can be packed in more tightly. They might leave land with a motor and a pilot but after a few miles, the traffickers' cohorts arrive in another boat, take aboard the pilot and re-take the migrants' vessel's motor and head back to the Libyan coast, leaving the migrants to their fate at sea.

Thousands of rescued migrants arrive Palermo, Catania.

June 19, 2017

Tags: immigrants, drowning, sicily, africa, trouble, border, europe, death, immigration, flow, people, africans, rescue, drowning

1,092 immigrants arrived Palermo this morning aboard an Italian Coast Guard ship. They were saved from drowning in the Strait of Sicily: 751 men, 160 women,11 of whom were pregnant, and 185 minor children.
But that's not all.

Yesterday 730 migrants were saved from shipwreck in the central Mediterranean in 7 separate operations. The migrants were aboard 3 rubber rafts and 4 wooden units. Rescue ships belonged to the Italian Coast Guard, to the NGO Save the Childen, the NGO Jugend Rettet and a towboat.
But that's not all.

Yesterday 695 rescued migrants disembarked at Catania from aboard the Irish patrol boat P31 Le Eithne.

Photo essay by Cesar Dezfuli

June 16, 2017

Tags: immigrants, drowning, sicily, africa, trouble, border, europe, death, immigration, flow, people, africans, rescue, drowning

From today's The Guardian newspaper:
Photographer Cesar Dezfuli created a beautiful black-and-white essay on life for African migrants waiting for their green cards for years in a northern Italian town not very receptive to migrants. They live in a former hotel while they wait.

rescue efforts cause unexpected problems

June 14, 2017

Tags: immigrants, drowning, sicily, africa, trouble, border, europe, death, immigration, flow, people, africans, rescue, drowning

From the New York Times today:

It is part of a wrenching Catch-22: Any effort to lessen the migrant crisis can backfire as smuggling networks devise even more dangerous strategies in response. Here is how those strategies have pushed desperate migrants into even more desperate situations.
Smugglers Respond to Rescue Efforts

The bodies of 10 migrants were recovered and at least 100 more migrants were missing on Saturday off the coast of Libya. Eight of the bodies were found on an inflatable boat in the Mediterranean Sea, in a treacherous area between Libya and Italy known as the Central Mediterranean route. Each year, aid groups patrol the area and rescue thousands of migrants at risk of drowning. (more…)

Libyan Navy vs NGO rescue ships

June 10, 2017

Tags: immigrants, drowning, sicily, africa, trouble, border, europe, death, immigration, flow, people, africans, rescue, drowning

From La Repubblica Palermo edition:
The Libyan navy has told NGO search and rescue ship to back off from its coastal waters and not to sit around and wait for imbarcations of refugees set out by their traffickers. The Libyan navy, like Frontex, the European border police, say that they hve intercepted phone calls between people aboard the rubber rafts and the NGO rescue ships. 570 migrants were brought back to Libyan shores. Both Frntex and the Libyan Navy say that these NGO rescue ships are vital to the traffickers who know that they will take the migrants to Europe.
"The behavior of these NGOs increases the numbers of boats of illegal migrants and the audacity of the traffickers of human beings," the Libya Navy spokesman said. In emphasizing the case of a migrant killed yesterday by traffickers Gasem, the spokeman, added that the traffickers "know well that the road to Europe is doable thanks to these NGos and their illegitimate ad suspect presence while waiting for these poor human beings."

Four NGO ships were in the area: The Prudence of Doctors Without Borders,and the ships belonging to OpenArms, Jugendrettet and Seawatch which, however rescued four boats and a rubber raft, saving 716 people and taking aboard a cadaver.


Taormina G-7 a bust for refugee crisis thanks to Trump

June 7, 2017

Tags: immigrants, drowning, sicily, africa, trouble, border, europe, death, immigration, flow, people, africans, rescue, drowning, trump, taormina, G7

From The Guardian:
The Taormina summit did not prove to be the diplomatic turning point in the debate on migration that the Italian government had once hoped. The Trump administration squashed an ambitious plan for a positive statement defending the rights of refugees. Possibly the only practical outcome of the summit was that all refugee boats were banned from landing in Sicily for seven days. Taormina residents sent a discreet letter to the local prefecture after the world leaders had left saying they wanted no migrants housed in the town as it might put off the tourists.

Can you believe this?

June 5, 2017

Tags: immigrants, drowning, sicily, africa, trouble, border, europe, death, immigration, flow, people, africans, rescue, drowning

From the June 3 The Guardian:
Far-right activists are planning a sea campaign this summer to disrupt vessels saving refugees in the Mediterranean, after successfully intercepting a rescue mission last month.

Members of the anti-Islam and anti-immigrant “Identitarian” movement – largely twentysomethings often described as Europe’s answer to the American alt-right – have raised £56,489 in less than three weeks to enable them to target boats run by aid charities helping to rescue refugees.

The money was raised through an anonymous crowdfunding campaign with an initial goal of €50,000 (about £44,000) to pay for ships, travel costs and film equipment. On Saturday the group confirmed they had reached their target but were still accepting donations. A French far-right group hired a boat for a trial run last month, disrupting a search-and-rescue vessel as it left the Sicilian port of Catania. They claimed they had slowed the NGO ship until the Italian coastguard intervened.

Women and children dead and alive on raft

June 5, 2017

Tags: immigrants, drowning, sicily, africa, trouble, border, europe, death, immigration, flow, people, africans, rescue, drowning

From La Repubblica today:
The mother died but her 15-month-old baby girl was saved and taken up by other women on the raft they voyaged on. The littlest migrant will arrive tomorrow morning at Trapani, Sicily aboard the ship Vos Hestia of Save the Children which rescued 125 migrants, 84 men and 41 women. On ship are also the corpses of four persons who did not make it, among them the child's mother. Twenty=five children were rescued, 21 of whom were unaccompanied by adults. Almost all were from sub-Saharan Africa: Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Cameroon, Togo and Gambia.
Also today hundreds of migrants were rescued. Nearly 400 now are aboard the ship "Blue Gulf" of the NGO Open Arms, which is located northeast of Libya and is headed towards Italy.

After G7 port closure the corpses and immigrants arrive Sicily

May 29, 2017

Tags: immigrants, drowning, sicily, africa, trouble, border, europe, death, immigration, flow, people, africans, rescue, drowning

Seven corpses arrived on the towboat Vos Thalassa along with some 1,040 migrants saved at sea yesterday in several operations on the high seas, according to today's La Repubblica online. The dead were five women and two boys. Among those saved, almost all of them from sub-Saharan Africa, were three pregnant women and fifteen children.
Awaiting them at the dock were the police chief of Palermo Antonella De Miro and city Councilman Giusto Catania who supplied seven coffins for the dead. Many volunteers from Caritas, a Roman Catholic charity, distributed food and shoes.
The towboat is the first ship with migrants to arrive after the reopening of ports at the conclusion of the G7 meeting in Taormina. Tomorrow morning at 8 the Coast Guard ship Gregoretti is expected to arrive with 254 more migrant and two cadavers.

“People have the right to move in search for a better life.”

April 18, 2017

Tags: leoluca orlando, palermo, mayor, immigrants, europe, freedom

From the Guardian:
Every time a ship with rescued migrants enters the harbour of Palermo, the mayor goes to greet them. “Welcome,” he says to them. “The worst is over. You are citizens of Palermo now.”

Cityscape: Piazzetta degli Angelini

January 6, 2016

Tags: palermo, sicily, slideshow, monuments, beautiful, city, urban, europe, historic center


The paving stones are honeycomb-shaped! Author Giuseppe Di Lampedusa's family home gave onto this piazzetta. It was destroyed by an American bomb during WWII, rebuilt and now, just recently, turned into apartments. There used to be a water tower and fountain here that brought icy cold water from the mountains, and thirsty aristocrats would (more…)

Happy New Year

December 31, 2015

Tags: palermo, sicily, slideshow, monuments, beautiful, city, urban, europe, historic center

A look at the best of Palermo.

Refugee baby born on rescue ship now in Ragusa

December 23, 2015

Tags: refugee, baby, born, rescue ship, francesca, stephani, benin city, nigeria, sex-trade, human trafficking, unknowing, asylum, immigration, life, africa, europe, northward, poverty, economics, guardian, newspaper

The unspoken undercurrent in this article is that Stephanie may be the unwitting victim of a thriving human- traffic in sex slaves. Naive Nigerian girls, especially from Benin City, are often tricked into forfeiting their lives in the sex trade when they are offered work as hair dressers, grocery clerks in the new world then once in Europe are forced into a life of prostitution from which they are not freed until they pay upwards of $40,000 to their captors. I wonder if her captors will reclaim her as their merchandise once she leaves the Ragusa women's refuge. She still does not know she is in danger. Click on the caption to read the story in The Guardian.

Brussels to usurp border lines between Schengen countries in emergencies

December 13, 2015

Tags: immigration, europe, borders, schengen, asylum, guards, fence, repatriation

Brussels is to unveil radical plans to strip national governments of authority over their borders in an emergency and to create a border guards force to police the EU’s frontiers, supervise asylum claims, and detain and deport failed asylum seekers.

The controversial response to the immigration crisis is to be launched on Tuesday (more…)

Palermo has the largest Ficus macrophylla on the continent

October 22, 2015

Tags: Ficus macrophylla, palermo Villa Garibaldi, largest, Europe. record-holder, aerial roots, Orto Botanico, Botanic Garden, palermo, sicily, italy, europe, garden, tree, giant, loved, culture, history

Here it is: Ficus macrophylla at Garibaldi Park at Piazza Marina, near the sea
Its siblings in the Orto Botanico (Botanic Garden) are rivals for the title of largest Ficus macrophylla in Europe. I love their aerial roots, majestic girth and shade.

NPR: couple spends millions to save immigrants

May 17, 2015

Tags: NPR, rescue, mediterranean, sea, immigrants, Malta, sicily, europe, MOAS, Phoenix, ship, couple, wealthy, help, humanitarian