A Letter from Lampedusa

by Giacomo Sferlazzo
Today is one of the worst days that I have ever experienced: the hope of Lampedusa becoming a beacon of solidarity, rights and humanity has so utterly faded that it now seems merely a rhetorical fantasy. The humanity which was present on the island was a humanity that let us hope and it all too soon acquired ‘myth status’. Then just as had happened on other occasions, this humanity proved to be “not enough”, because it was not accompanied by a social or political conscience.

Today, on Lampedusa, the national and local government’s plan was achieved. It is a plan that for many years had had no success, yet today it was completed: the creation of a situation leading to clashes between Lampedusans and migrants, in this case Tunisians. It’s been a while that all those who needed to know were aware of the state of degradation and unrest which make up daily life in the Centre on Lampedusa. Many people actually said it, that if the Tunisians were left in such conditions the outcome would be predictable. Furthermore, if they knew that their wait would end in repatriation, riots would break out. And so it was. The main problem has been the same since the beginning of the year, the lack of transfers from Lampedusa to the rest of Italy. This was also something that was easy to predict, yet everyone pretended nothing was going on, everyone pretended that life inside the Centre was peaceful. The most important thing was that nobody saw the migrants wandering around the streets and that the tourists didn’t see anything. Today it is important that images of the Madonna di Porto Salvo festival are shown, along with images of ‘the beautiful Lampedusa’ and ‘the holiday Lampedusa’. What happened is already in the past, it is not necessary to talk about it. Such behaviour comes from the mafia mentality of the code of silence and it is the crux of the behaviour of a group of people and of an administration that have created their own identity from illegality. The worst thing is that no one has ever tried to put an end to these practices of bad business, or rather, criminality. On the contrary, they seem to be praised. Any State presence is desperately missing on Lampedusa. There is the impression that we are living in the Far West, people do what they want. The more aggressive ones carry out threats and corruption and let themselves be corrupted. The only value that unites a part of the Lampedusans, although it is difficult to say how many exactly, is the summer season. By this I mean the island’s summer trade and ability to make money. Yet the world and history have taught us that there is more to the situation than the mere saving of the tourist season. It goes beyond the limited vision of those who operate small businesses. These are the people who should have accompanied the fight against the anger and the violence, which the most powerful people in all the world are bringing to the masses. These people have now become part of the problem -they now uphold that the enemy is to be killed, drowned, thrown on the pyre. Berlusconi, on his arrival on the island was acclaimed by a violent crowd who prevented those who were not in agreement with government policies from letting their voices be heard. Even at this very moment, my friends, who today more than at other time I want to call companions, are threatened by angry crowds, who have lost all direction “There’s even some for members of Askavusa if they dare get involved.” Anyway, the Lega (Far Right party) thank the crowds and the mayor, who says that the Tunisians are delinquents, has an enormous responsibility for what is going on, as does everyone who is using violence.

These are the same people who applauded Crialese and raced to compliment themselves after the projection of the film Terraferma; there are the same people who applauded the singers who came to sing for solidarity during the O Scià manifestation; they are those who raced to take care of all of the VIPs who Baglioni invited, pocketing abundant profits in the process. Baglioni, who was financed by those who are actually provoking this enormous disaster and claimed to be doing O Scià to raise awareness among the population on themes such as integration, should condemn those who use violence and give no recognition to those who participate in brawls, by refusing to work with these people. The words of his songs have no meaning if they are not carried out. Those who say throw them in the sea, burn them are all delinquents- even though today they are probably carrying the statue of the Madonna di Porto Salvo on their shoulders. I don’t have much faith, but the fact that everything that is happening in conjunction with the festival of the island’s patron saint, who is also a symbol of living together in peace and harmony, makes me think a lot.

The people who say they want to pull down the “Porta d’Europa”, the monument by Mimmo Paladino, are closest to the extreme Islamists who destroy works of art in the name of religious fanaticism and such acts are in fact a sign of monstrous ignorance. What worries me is that violence may be seen as a way to resolve the questions that politics has not known or wanted to address. The Tunisians are forced to protest with violence because no one listens to them and they are being locked up in inhumane conditions. The immature Lampedusans fall into the government’s trap and are stirred up by the mayor’s declarations. In violence, they find not only an outlet for all of the tension but also a method to affirm the anger which has been repressed. It is not to affirm ideas or attention because I do not believe that such people have clear ideas in their heads, but to affirm their supremacy and a control of the territory. Ideas, both of which, are typical ways in which the mafia react. Dividing humanity is what those in power always try to find a way to do. It is often done using fear and ignorance as is happening now on Lampedusa where there is a shocked group of people who believe the solution to the problems is to kill the Tunisians and not allow anymore to arrive.

It has always been said that Lampedusa’s role in immigration should be one of providing immediate aid and reception as it is limited in the number of migrants it can cope with. Yet this has never really been adopted by the government and so today the initial blame for the current situation on the island must rest with the government. They are followed closely by all the Lampedusans who allow themselves to fall into this trap. Today we have lost everything, and we have lost a lot. Lampedusa, the place which I love more than anywhere in the world, today seems like a house that should be abandoned, a place without hope, destined to hatred and violence, a place where egoism and ignorance have won. The situation has been around the corner for a long time, just the fact to have a local administration with the current mayor and a deputy who belongs to the Lega says a lot. I hope that the many Lampedusans who previously demonstrated their support do not get caught up in all this ill feeling, which is constantly being fuelled. I hope that the young Tunisians can find a better place to live than Lampedusa and Italy.
I don’t want to give up on the hope that belongs to a fairer world. I don’t want to give up on the hope that a dialogue will emerge between the different populations. I firmly believe that the first effort to be made by people who have a conscience is to promote discussion, not only on immigration but on everything that is happening in this world. Education and collective conscience should be placed at the centre of community life. Direct conscience is the most important thing, together with dialogue, as an instrument to bring about common good- not just of one group of people or one class of people, but for the whole of humankind. For this reason we ask that CIEs (Immigration Detention Centres) become abolished in Italy.
We ask that a new law on immigration and integration is written and passed.
We ask that the general public of Europe and North Africa build a direct network in order to maintain open dialogue and cooperation.
We ask that education and culture become priorities on the political agenda.
With enormous suffering and hope,

Giacomo Sferlazzo, a Lampedusan