Lampedusa, south of Italy, was in the news again as the country's authorities banned the Sea-Watch 3 rescue ship from its territorial waters, preventing it from disembarking migrants rescued off the Libyan shores. For our last edition of Insiders dedicated to the key points of the European elections, among which the rise of the far-right, euronews reporter Valérie Gauriat spent some time on the island, where the local population is divided on the issue of immigration.
A popular Italian tourist destination, south of Sicily, Lampedusa is also one of the most famous centres of the migrant tragedy in the Mediterranean.
Euronews Valerie Gauriat spoke to Pietro Bartolo, who was elected European MP on the list of the Italian Democratic Party) in the elections last May. He's also the Islands most well-known doctor. Bartolo wants to use his experience to help with new immigration policies.
LAMPEDUSA - "GATEWAY TO EUROPE"
"That is Libya and this is the southernmost point of Europe," said Bartolo, standing near the "Porta di Lampedusa" a door shaped monument built by artist Domenico Paladino, in tribute to the migrants who died at sea, trying to cross the Mediterranean. "We are the gateway to Europe. And now someone wants to shut this gate. Maybe that's why it's crumbling! She suffers, that door! When you come here, there is the South wind, coming from Africa, carrying the dust from Africa. We almost hear the lamentations, the cries, the suffering, we hear them," he said.
In nearly thirty years, he has says he has treated some 300,000 people who landed from the island, after crossing the Mediterranean from Libya.
"This is where all these people arrive," Bartolo explained, showing us the small pier where a few colourful wooden boats are shored, alongside the vessels of the Italian Guardia di Finanza. "These boats were brought in recently. I spend more nights and more days on this pier than in my own house. For thirty years, I've been coming here every night; every night, waiting for all these people. So this place is dear to my heart, even though I have seen so much suffering, so much horror, so many deaths on this pier... so many deaths," said Bartolo.
"WE ARE TO BLAME"
"We are responsible for that!" commented Bartolo. "It is us who bring wars, it's us who provoke hunger, who provoke violence. We are the cause of everything! They were forced to flee, to leave everything, in order to live a little more serene life, and now, we don't want them here."
"Things can't work that way, it's not fair. We have the duty and the responsibility to help them."
"These people should arrive by air, through regular channels, through humanitarian corridors. Not through the sea," said Bartolo.
NGO SEA WATCH SHIP STRANDED
A new decree prohibits humanitarian ships from landing on the coasts of Italy. During our visit, the German NGO Sea Watch's rescue ship Seawatch-3, had already been stranded for days off the shores of the island.
The subject was on the agenda at a meeting organized by the mayor of Lampedusa, Toto Martello, who is in favour of welcoming the migrants.
Speaking to visitors from Amref NGO, Bartolo said, "I am ashamed that today Italy can forbid these people who are suffering, to access our territory! I'm ashamed!", before being interrupted by an emergency phone call: he was expected on the pier, to receive some of the Seawatch-3 passengers.
Outside the city hall, Lega activists shouted "Closed ports! Closed ports."
That day, 10, of the 52 Sea Watch-3 passengers, were allowed to disembark.
Bartolo is far from winning the support of all. Many say too much effort and funds are spent on migrants, while nothing is done for local development.
They say, that there's a lack of infrastructure, a lack of jobs, as well as high taxes, and feel that Lampedusa has been forgotten by the politicians.
MATTEO SALVINI SUPPORTERS
In the European election, participation was low; but nearly half of the voters on Lampedusa chose Matteo Salvini's League Party.
A restaurant owner, Angela Maraventano is also a former Senator of the League Party.
"I joined the League project, because of the problems that have affected my island daily for so many years," she told us. "The problems are health, education, transport, or waste management for instance. We have been welcoming migrants for free. And now we've had enough. Now we will ask the national government and the European Parliament to give us something in return."
ISLANDERS FEEL ABANDONED
The supporters of Salvini on Lampedusa say they feel abandoned.
"Young people work only for 4 or 5 months a year, after that there is nothing. Nothing to go forward; so most of them leave.", commented Attilio Lucia, a shop manager.
"We only want growth, and it is not immigration that can make Lampedusa grow. Immigration has benefited mainly those who speculated on this problem," added Davide Masia, Lampedusa City Council President.
Maraventano concluded: "We want to live serenely on our island; we'll welcome those who need it, but we will fight against this phenomenon. Because behind that, there is delinquency, there are the mafias. So, doors open for cruise ships, for fishermen, for tourists. But closed ports for those who traffic human flesh, those, we will always fight against... Always."
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