14 March 2019

The Mayor of Lampedusa Speaks Out: “The State Is Eradicating Our Island”

Vita.it – Totò Martello, the Mayor of the Italian council that has provided lessons to the whole world in terms of migrant reception, speaks out. “We’re being decimated by the authorities. Lampedusa is being wiped off the Interior Ministry’s statistical reports. The tax exemptions have been abolished. The landings continue but now it’s a state secret.”

The Mayor of Lampedusa, Totò Martello (vita.it)

There’s a wonderful island in Italy where the port is always open and the landings continue without pause. The mayor of Lampedusa, Totò Martello, knows this all too well, as since the beginning of the year he has counted seven landings. The last two were over the week just passed, on March 7th and 8th, when two different vessels brought a total of 46 migrants to the island’s shores, including six women and a couple of three-year-old children, all of them from Subsaharan Africa.

Along with the seven landings in 2019 and two further transfers, there are also the landings from 2018: “More than 300 in total, including 3,500 people who arrived on the island” explains the Mayor, with the figure on the tip of his tongue. “It’s very clear that what Italians get told about doesn’t take into account what happens on Lampedusa, which has quite simply been morally and geographically wiped off the map by this government. Even though over the years we’ve carried out activities which have had an important meaning for Italy and Europe.”

For more than a year, the mayor has not received any institutional communications relating to migrant landings happening in his port. “The captaincy doesn’t tell me about them, the Interior Ministry keeps dumb. It’s the locals who tell me about them, they see the landings and let me know. I’m shocked by the institutional bodies, we’re simply not taken into consideration, whether we help people or not doesn’t seem to matter to anyone.”

The statistics on landings and the reception of migrants, weekly published by the Ministry of the Interior, it is clear that landings have decreased by 94.36% since 2018, but the ports where the landings happen no longer appear. In the ministerial statistical report Lampedusa, and the number of migrants who have landed there since the beginning of the year, is not recorded.

“The fact that we’ve been canceled out from the Ministerial statistics can be seen in two ways: First, to try and show Italians that there aren’t anymore landings and secondly to cut the funding we once received as one of the local councils most affected by landings. Since 2011 we’ve had a suspension of the taxes introduces by the Milleproroghe law. But that exemption has been removed for 2018 and 2019, meaning that some day very soon all of the local businesses will receive new tax receipts and they’ll all go under. We’ve communicated this to the government, we’re written to the Ministers of Finance, of the Interior, to the President, but no one’s responded. This is a government that defined itself as being ‘for the people’, but it doesn’t reply to an elected institutional body that represent the people”. Martello now defined Lampedusa as “the island abandoned by the state.”

Lampedusa’s being “wiped out” from Italy began, according to the Mayor, last October 3rd, the anniversary of the Lampedusa massacre in 2013, when 366 people died a few hundred metres off the island’s shore. “Not a single representative from the government came to the island. Nineteen schools that wanted to come for a project organised by the Ministry of Education weren’t able to participate in the commemorations because the EU financing wasn’t pushed through until the day itself. Everything else has been the consequence.”

If the Mayor of Lampedusa is not told about the landings happening in his port, neither has the press received any information about migrants rescues for months now. “To have the last landing confirmed, I had to disturb the Chief Public Prosecutor in Agrigento. When we talk about landings by now it feels like saving human lies has become a state secret” explains Sergio Scandura, journalist for Radio Radicale. He adds that an Italian Coast Guard vessel intervened in the final phase of the most recent landing at Lampedusa.

The information is underscored by the Mayor of Lampedusa. “Yes it’s true, I also found that out a few days later, the migrants were a few miles from Lampedusa and sent out an SOS.”

It’s clear then that, despite the landings continuing, Italians – including journalists – aren’t meant to know about them.

“When there are so many Italians applauding in response to the lies that are being circulated, with a whole nation that doesn’t speak the truth, what is the Mayor of Lampedusa meant to say? We feel insulted”, Martello concludes. From his perspective at Europe’s gateway, he continues to read the pain of the migrants in the eyes of his citizens.

Alessandro Puglia


Project “OpenEurope” – Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus

Translation by Richard Braude

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