Report from Lampedusa- 28 September 2011

There haven’t been new boat
arrivals as predicted, and the situation looks rather calm from the tourists’
point of view. The only thing to remind us of what happened the other day, is
the significant presence of security forces. On our first evening we met an
employee from ARCI, together with a cultural mediator, who described to us what
he had seen during the last two months on Lampedusa. The employee had visited
the centre in Contrada Imbriacola and the ex base Loran claiming that the
detention conditions were not so bad.

The problem, according to
him, is the denial of the right to move freely and the unjust detention of
those who undertake the journey by sea. But regarding the treatment inside the
centre, we were told that the bathrooms were proportional to the number of
people (he said there were 15 fully functioning bathrooms for every 50 people);
that the food was so good he often ate at the canteen with the migrants; that
the centre tried to follow the rules of Ramadan; and, that there were plenty of
cigarettes. The cultural mediator said that Italians are not looked upon with
kindness in Tunisia, due to
what is happening to their co-national emigrants and it seems there have been
revenge attacks causing damage to Italian restaurants in Tunis. In his opinion, the Tunisians who
have arrived in Italy
this year are all economic migrants.

He has never heard
convincing stories of Tunisians having risked their life for political reasons
during this period (according to him many have invented unbelievable versions
of events) or, at least, he maintains that such scenarios, if true, are
exceptions. He claims that his compatriots who have been living in Italy
for some time, fear the new arrivals may ruin their image in Italian society
and this is why they don’t protest that much. He claimed again, that it isn’t
about just the one incident (the fire in the Reception Centre), as some have
declared, but according to him the fire was a premeditated act because several
youths had trainers and a bag with their belongings to hand, as if they were
ready to leave. In any case, it shouldn’t have been necessary to use violence
to obtain a fundamental right of freedom. We hear from several sources that a
little before the fire, the mediators of the centre may have been threatened.
They were told if nothing changed, something would happen; there were also migrants
who were sleeping at the time of the fire including some disabled people. Once outside
the centre, people spoke about someone leaving a sort of trap for the Tunisians
by leaving a shop door open with lots of gas cylinders within sight… but this
is only a hypothesis. People still say that the action against the Tunisians
has been harsh.

We were at the Festival
both nights, the public turnout, as in other years, was incredible. Airplanes
were completely full of people mainly coming from Sicily, but also from the North of Italy.
There were hardly any foreigners. There were fewer stalls and crafts on sale
compared to the other years. Those selling things complained that nobody was
spending a cent and some claimed that this festival had made the least amount
of money that they can remember. The first night had famous Italian singers on
the line up, but not even one social message came from the stage, except for a
poem read by Beppe Fiorello on reception and brotherhood. According to a boy
from Tuscany the poem was rather banal and there
wasn’t space for musical groups from the rest of the Mediterranean,
even though it would have been logical to include some Tunisian music, as a
cultural exchange, all evidence of which seemed to be completely absent this
year. He also stated that it would have been possible to organise an
interesting meeting to promote the exchange of cultures. His voice became
animated as he spoke about everything that has happened: the fights, the stones
thrown at Tunisians, the boy who died (it seems that the news spreading around
Lampedusa is that the boy in coma has died), but all of these things are too
serious to speak about in black and white terms during the Festival. However,
the following night, after the pop singers attending the talent show hosted by
Maria De Filippi and the words from Baglioni on poetry, humanity and “the new
day that will come tomorrow”, there was a performance by Edoardo Bennato, which
was a collection of songs about war, immigrants, those on earth in power,
accompanied by really raw images of embarkations, bombardments, boats with migrants
suffering on board and demonstrations from the Arab world and Asia on the big
screen. Some people started to leave (it was already past midnight), but many
people remained to applaud his words. There seemed to be a sense of collective
guilt and sad feeling diffused among the crowds. A huge message reminded
everyone that the event had been organised with the patronage of the Prime
Minister, the Government, the Region… and also the UNHCR.

The first evening we also
spoke to Annalisa from Askavusa, who told us that the situation at the moment
is difficult for the association. The Lampedusans stare at members of the
association with angry eyes and they prefer not to organise new initiatives and
try to remain in the background.

She told me that after
Ilaria went to Tunisia
(to shoot a documentary about the elections) they tried to keep the centre open
every morning but it was a bit difficult because they work. They do however
have the intention to set up a permanent immigration museum, launching the
initiative in December. They know about the fleet from Tunisia which
is waiting to make the voyage to Lampedusa. We also met a worker from OIM, who
informed us that they will continue to have a house in Lampedusa for the near
future because he is convinced that after the O’Scia Festival it’s important to
see what will happen.

Many stop to speak with us
regarding what has happened in Lampedusa this year. A young Sicilian thinks
that there might be a plot behind all this that is aimed at expelling the Lampedusans
from the island in order to be able to buy houses and property at great prices.

One Lampedusan is tired of
words. He feels he is being made fun of and thinks that his co-citizens, as
well as the mainland Italians, shouldn’t pay taxes anymore in order to send
those governing home. The town centre is full of people in the morning, there
are those who speak about the Carabinieri leaving the hotels, but you can still see a
presence of security forces on the island.

A journalist from Radio Popolare in Milan tried to enter the Loran Base.
Initially a young man in uniform was welcoming, he was available for
information and proposed to take her telephone number(…), however one of his
superiors then chased the journalist away and told off the young man.

Daniela Caldarella