Inside One of the Lampedusa Refugee Camps


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Inside One of the Lampedusa Refugee Camps

I gave one of the migrants a disposable camera to take inside the old gym on the Sicilian coast.

"I am 27 years old. Originally I came from Nigeria. I crossed from Libya to Italy in a small boat. One hundred and five people went with me, 103 of them survived."

These are the words of migrant number 220 – or Louis, as he's known to his friends and family – one of the "lucky" survivors of a group of around 800 who've crossed the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy over the past couple of weeks on a series of clandestine migrant vessels that sank off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa. I met number 220 after stumbling upon a fenced refugee camp in the Sicilian harbour town of Trapani.


Number 220 says he was living in Libya, but the situation there drove him to attempt the crossing to a better life in Europe. He survived, but two women on his small boat died before a commercial ship took them on board. Eventually they ended up in an old gym in Trapani. He spends his days here with 85 other young men, sleeping shoulder to shoulder on mattresses spread out across the gym floor.

The refugees are only allowed out of the gym for three hours a day. They spend the rest of their time indoors, killing time and waiting in limbo. Though that still seems preferable to what they were trying to escape: "This is already better than Libya; I feel safe here and don't hear gunshots any more," explains 220.

The men in the gym have no idea what will happen to them. They don’t speak a word of Italian and the guards in the camp don't speak English. They are totally in the dark about their status and tell me I am the first person to speak English to them since they arrived.

Since the guards don’t give me any information, either – and won’t let me enter the camp – number 220 and I decide to meet outside the camp. Here I give him a disposable camera so he can show me his life inside. "I don’t do much inside," he tells me, "mainly sleep and sit on the patio with other guys from Nigeria. And wait."

More stories about Lampedusa:

Europe Needs to Wake Up to the Boat Sinkings of Lampedusa Too Many Tunisians, Not Enough Toilets 


Louis, AKA 'Number 220', who took the photos inside the Trapani refugee camp.Photo courtesy of Berta Banacloche / Transterra Media

The view through the door of the gym that now serves as the home of refugee number 220.

A migrant walks through the old gym that now serves as a refugee camp.

A refugee scavenges the garbage for valuables. Most of them left Libya in small fishing boats without much space for possessions.

Refugees pass time sitting on the patio of the old gym that is now their home. They are allowed out about three hours per day, the rest of the time they spend inside.

Nigerian refugees congregate on the patio of the old gym that now serves as a refugee camp.

A migrant lays on his mattress in the old gym that now serves as a refugee camp.

A migrant lays on one of the mattresses in the old gym that now serves as a refugee camp. Days are filled with idle time for most refugees.