Interview with Damiano Sferlazzo, deputy mayor of Lampedusa and Linosa

Finally we manage to have a chat with Damiano Sferlazzo, deputy mayor of Lampedusa- representative of the new administration- and ask him a few questions.

Boat Arrivals

Sferlazzo tells us that yesterday, 27th July,
two boats arrived in Lampedusa. The first, with 41 people aboard arrived in the
morning. It seems as if the boat departed from Tunisia. Aboard, there were 19
Algerians, 21 Tunisians and one Maroccan. While we are speaking in Piazza
Castello, a worker from the Contrada Imbriacola reception centre informed him
that one of the migrants, who suffers from diabetes, had remained on the island
as he was unwell, while the other 40 had been transferred to Porto Empedocle by
ferry that morning.

In the evening, a second boat had arrived with
20 Tunisians aboard. They were taken to the Contrada Imbriacola centre. On
Monday they will also be transferred by ferry. Therefore, there are currently 21
people staying at the centre.

Imbriacola- the opening of the centre and its management- means of reception on
the island.

The centre is still being run by Lampedusa
Accoglienza and Federico Miragliotta remains the director. A meeting had
previously been held with Miragliotta, Cono Galipò -the president of the
cooperative- and the local council to discuss the best way of running the
centre which re-opened on 3rd July with a capacity of 300 places. Since
December the employees of Lampedusa Accoglienza haven’t received any government
funding for integration. For the moment, each week there are four people who
work on call. They must be available 24 hours a day in case a boat arrives. It
is precarious employment and if those on call are not available when a boat
arrives, for example because they are doing another job, they risk being fired.
This was a further reason to call the meeting which took place in Palermo. Despite the fact
that the trade unionists who should have been there failed to show up.

Even though the PRAESIDIUM project has been
extended, up until now no members of the association who are part of the
project have come to the island as no boats have arrived. A member of IOM (International
Organisation for Migration) is due to arrive shortly.

Lampedusa “unsafe port”

On the occasion of the opening of the centre,
there should have been an inauguration ceremony with the presence of the
Minister of the Interior, but in the end no such ceremony took place. According
to Sferlazzo, one of the main reasons for this lies in the fact that Lampedusa
is still classified an “unsafe port”. This in itself poses a
contradiction: a reception centre being opened in a place which has been
classified an “unsafe port”. The deputy mayor hopes that this
“status” will be lifted as soon as possible. Approximately 20 days
ago, the mayor Nicolini had a meeting with the Minister of the Interior, where she
asked if after the opening of the centre, the status of “unsafe port”
could be lifted. She is still awaiting a response.

Cala Creta as “reception centre”

We also asked the deputy mayor about the
tourist residence in Cala Creta being used as a reception centre for the
migrants who arrived on the island by boat during the months when the main
reception centre was closed. Sferlazzo described this period as a poorly
organised emergency situation. Suitable personnel were unavailable, but the
Caritas, of which Sferlazzo was then the local manager (when Dino De Rubeis was
still mayor) tried to help the refugees with clothes, food and other things,
including asking for transfers to Sicily or other places. They also managed to
get the national Caritas involved, but there were still no positive results.
Only when the Somalis went on a hunger strike and walked out of the residence
asking for a transfer, did the mayor move to get them transferred. “This
situation has to end, we have to defend our dignity and theirs,” said

The new management of integration

Sferlazzo tells us that the newly elected mayor Giusi
Nicolini immediately set about speaking to the various organisations and groups
involved with immigration.

Lampedusa will always be a stopping point. Naturally therefore, a real
insertion process for the migrants is not possible on the island: there are
approximately 6,200 residents and often there is a lack of water and food, if
the ships that bring supplies are unable to arrive, and there is no hospital. But
there should always be the possibility of docking there, of having the
possibility of staying and of leaving for elsewhere after having rested.
Naturally the situation in 2011 should never be repeated. The government left
thousands of migrants stranded on the island leading to a highly charged
situation. Sferlazzo speaks of a Tunisian who arrived last year and who chose
to stay. He lived on the island for a couple of months. Then during the winter,
he was unable to get work and so, with the help of some of the islanders,
transferred to Rome.

Tourism and
immigration- what has changed under the new administration?

Sferlazzo tells us that unfortunately since the
elections the situation is once again worse than expected. This is also
confirmed by a town councillor, who is present during the interview. They are
now in the middle of rebuilding everything from scratch: the council’s bureaucratic
machine is facing difficulties, nothing works. Before anything else it is
necessary the create a structure that works and then it will be possible to
focus on individual sectors. Even if there are a series of new projects in the
pipeline, they are unable to get them up and running before the town council
itself is back on its feet. “We have to focus on the foundations and
motivate our employees”. But first of all it is necessary to eliminate all
situations where money is being wasted: an example- an employee of the council,
such as a secretary or councillor, cannot earn €200,000 per year. Lampedusa
is not an opportunity to earn such amounts. Salaries should be in proportion to the island’s financial situation,
which currently is quite drastic.”

The next steps involve tourism, which needs to
become more sustainable, and immigration, which must be done with the
involvement of the Lampedusan population. This winter we will try to gather
various people and associations and ask for their collaboration.

Flights are naturally of great importance for
tourism. But the opening of the new airport cannot disproportionally increase
the number of visitors to the island before a new type of tourism has been put
in place.

The subject of flights remains controversial.
Meridiana will be working until the end of October, then the contract will be
up for renewal. There may even be a three year project for flights, which will
help the situation enormously.

The Loran Base,
Frontex, the Police, water, hospitals

According to the deputy mayor the Loran Base is
closed because all work has been halted. It is not yet clear if it will be
restructured or not. It is only the boats which will be dismantled in the next
couple of months.

Nothing is known of Frontex and the mission
based in Pantelleria, but Sferlazzo is very interested in this and is trying to
find out more information.

The number of police present on the island is
also being modified and will revert back to “pre-2011” figures. Water
remains a problem on the island. It has to be brought over from Sicily and there is a
convention with the region. There are 4 large cisterns in the town which are
refilled with water brought over by ship. Often the ships do not arrive and
there are not enough employees to render the situation efficient. When the new
council was instated, there were no longer the “acquaioli”, the
professionals who look after the cisterns’ turbines. When one of the tubes
broke, a quarter of the island’s residents was without water. This situation
also poses further problems if many migrants arrive.

As far as a hospital is concerned, the deputy
mayor says it is better to take things one step at a time. A proper hospital is
important, but it is not worth it if it isn’t run well. He therefore believes
it is better to start by creating and strengthening various departments. Most
importantly, a department for the treatment of chronic illnesses such as
chemotherapy should be opened. This would mean patients would not have to
travel to Palermo
for each session.

Judith Gleitze,
Borderline Sicilia Onlus