Migrant women with small children in Lampedusa, July 2022

News US

  • helen d’haens

    Italy correspondent

  • helen d’haens

    Italy correspondent

Look around the port of Lampedusa for an hour and you will surely see a ship with a group of immigrants arriving. The Italian island, some 140 kilometers off the Tunisian coast as the crow flies, is considered the gateway to Europe. Due to the increase in the number of arrivals, the island has recently been in the news again.

One by one, the migrants who have arrived at the port undergo a medical check-up. “It’s a routine for us,” says young doctor Fabiana Falsone, who is part of the first aid team. “These are tough weeks, but we managed to treat everyone well.” Although she has noticed something in recent months: There are a striking number of pregnant women on ships.

“Ninth month, eighth month, seventh month, fourth month with complications…” Surgeon Francesco d’Arca, director of the Lampedusa outpatient clinic, shows the list on his phone. “Everyone is staying at the reception center right now.” D’Arca has been working on Lampedusa for years, but he has never seen numbers this high. “No maternity ward in Italy has as many pregnant women as we do.”

The list on the phone of the surgeon D’Arca, who sees pregnant women arrive almost every day

Also today a pregnant woman comes for a checkup. Florent, 25, from Cameroon, left Tunisia on April 1 and now looks ahead in the sterile white hallway of the outpatient clinic. She speaks in a whisper and without intonation. She is tired, she says.

Pregnant women crossing the Mediterranean are at enormous risk, says emergency doctor Fabiana Falsone. “Some cannot eat or drink for days. The fetus naturally suffers. These women need to hydrate immediately upon arrival.”

In some cases, women have a miscarriage due to stress and circumstances. But most of the time things work out, Falsone emphasizes. “We do an ultrasound on women almost immediately to make sure the fetus is healthy.”

fake news

Director D’Arca had to find the reason for the sharp increase in pregnant migrants in recent months. “Some women are abused during their journey and get pregnant from that abuse. Terrible. But those are stories we’ve heard for a long time.”

Today, something else is at stake, he discovered. “With the help of translators, we find out that news is circulating in Tunisia that there is a just sun exists: a law that stipulates that children born on Italian soil automatically become Italian citizens. That’s not true, but it’s the reason so many women give up so late.”

Particularly worrisome, D’Arca thinks. “Because it is also the reason why many pregnant women travel alone, without a partner. They get into debt at home and do everything to give their family a future, perhaps with the hope of accompanying them later.

fleeing from violence

Fake news was no reason for Cameroonian Florent to leave. She left Tunisia, where he had lived for several months, because she felt threatened. President Saied openly encourages racism against black Africans. People are attacked and their belongings destroyed. “We couldn’t stay there,” Florent whispers. She and her husband decided to cross.

Now she’s on a table for an ultrasound. She doesn’t quite understand what that is. In broken English, the doctor tells her that she is listening to her baby’s heartbeat. She asks for a banana. She does not look at the screen for a second, on which the outlines of her son are vaguely drawn.

Surgeon Francesco d’Arca undergoing examination in his outpatient clinic

The pregnancy is three months old and progressing well, but Florent must be closely monitored due to a cyst on her ovary. She and her husband will be flown tomorrow by helicopter to Sicily. There she receives medical assistance while she awaits her asylum application.

“We can’t do much with that fake news,” director D’Arca sighs. What he does do: expand his clinic. “Now we have a gynecologist, a pediatrician and a radiologist on call 24 hours a day.”

The money for this was found with great difficulty in the hospital’s own budget, he says. “As far as I know, there is no European money available for what we do here. It goes without saying that all those pregnant women get good medical help. But financially we are alone in that area.”