Once famous for its natural beauty and attractive beaches, today the Island of Lampedusa has become notorious for hosting and saving thousands of migrants fleeing desperation and wars. The new role did not change the imprinting and welcoming nature of its citizens, says Lampedusa's first first citizen in this interview to Vita International.
What do you think about the European migration agenda?
I hope it represents the beginning of a humanitarian policy and that more effective measures will be taken. So far, I have not seen actions taken in the right direction. I do not think we can expect things will change as long as the EU does not comprehend that we must drastically revise the Dublin Convention.
Mare Nostrum was an example to continue and to share with European partners while waiting to be able to implement humanitarian corridors that could solve the human trafficking problem once for all.
Frontex and operation Triton will not prevent new shipwrecks; in terms of figures, the refugee resettlement plan is ridiculous, considering that more than 20,000 lives have been already been lost from the beginning of this crisis.
Can we say Italy has been left alone to manage the migrants crisis?
Italy had a good opportunity, but I think it spoiled it. The interventions we attained from the EU were ineffective. When the problem of growing migration in the Mediterranean will be an European issue affecting EU countries at large, European institutions will start to worry; then Italy will not be alone anymore. Today, the lives of migrants are still mostly a responsibility that lies with the Italians. In most cases, people owe their lives to our coast guards.
Lampedusa’s inhabitants are an example of tolerance and hospitality. How have all these landings affected the daily lives of citizens?
Lampedusa’s residents are people of the sea; rescuing and receiving people is a duty. The flows of migrants who arrive here then depart to other destinations does not influence the ordinary lives of the island’s inhabitants. We have been welcoming refugees for the last 20 years. We have been doing our job. The European Institutions, on the other hand, have been neglecting to implement a comprehensive policy that could end this shame. Indeed, we are witnessing migrants who flee their countries and their homes against their wills, and how they have been exploited and abused. Once you encounter them in Lampedusa, you will comprehend their conditions and our need to treat them as humans and not numbers. We should help them before they take the decision to risk their life on a boat. We should not allow them to fall in the hands of human traffickers.
What happens to the wrecks of the seized boats?
We take them to Sicily, where they are dismantled. Here in Lampedusa, there are only two boats left. We also decided to conserve some boats here to show the world what they represent. If people look at the Arabic words engraved on the boats or at the hulls’ indelible grooves, they will realize without any doubt what migrants had to depend on to hope for a better life.
Has the migrant’s crisis impacted the tourist vocation of Lampedusa?
The island’s industry did not change. Lampedusa is one of the most wonderful islands in the Mediterranean. It is a natural pearl that is unrivaled. The welcoming nature that my fellow citizens display with migrants is the same one offered to those tourists who return every year to our beaches.
One more question, a personal one. How to look at the sea?
With optimism. That’s how the sea must be looked at. The Mediterranean Sea is an immense resource. I will never lose hope that someday the continents bordering the Mediterranean Sea will embrace and value this resource instead of looking at it as a frontier to be shut down and safeguarded. We tend to forget that the Mediterranean Sea has witnessed the birth of ancient civilizations. I hope this sea will someday become again the element of conjunction of all these cultures touched by its waters.