Migrant centre draws island’s ire

Residents of Italy’s Lampedusa say money should be spent on their needs.

Lampedusa's deputy mayor says the money for the centre should have been spent on the island
Lampedusa's deputy mayor says the money for the centre should have been spent on the island

‘Welcome centre’

Things have changed for the thousands of African migrants that land on this remote island.

Al Jazeera exclusive

Watch Karl Stagno-Navarra’s report from the island

The old detention centre that housed them has gone, following criticism by human rights groups that became an embarrassment to the government.

Now the new compound is called a “welcome centre”, and the detainees are described as “guests”.

At the busy cafeteria, where the 900 people held file in to be fed, the dish of the day is swordfish and beans.

Aid agencies have an office on site and access to medical facilities and legal services are provided.

There is a public telephone for migrants to keep in touch with their families back home.

War and starvation

But no matter how improved the facilities are, the journey to Lampedusa remains the same.

People here are clearly traumatised. They have endured a horrendous journey to make it this far and many have fled war and starvation.

Ibrahim, a migrant in the camp, said: “I came from Eritrea because we have wars with Ethiopia. My family died in the army. We went through Sudan and Libya. We crossed in a boat which had 60 people on board.

“We came to Italy in a very difficult way. I want to build my future here and have a good life. That’s all.”

The migrants are not kept in their new surroundings for long. They will be moved to mainland Italy within two days and many wonder what the future will hold.

Island anger
Locals say bad publicity about the migrant issue has meant this year has been bad for tourism, with an almost 60 per cent drop in visitors to the island compared with last year.

Angela Maraventano, Lampedusa’s deputy mayor, is furious and says the money spent on the centre should have been invested in the island.

Maraventano says that she is even prepared to call for civil disobedience.

She said: “I’ve given an ultimatum to everyone on the government and to Europe.

“If by November 15, they don’t give me a hospital, a school for my children, don’t give me the opportunity to live on this land with dignity, I am willing to get myself arrested.”

The island’s inhabitants are mainly fishermen and most of them refuse to talk to journalists.

They blame the media for the bad advertising and say rescuing migrants is no longer their concern.

The fishermen say that they fear that taking migrants on board their boats while out at sea could lead to investigations by the local authorities who could indict them for aiding illegal immigration.

But the fishermen say it is they who need to be rescued from hunger, not the migrants.

While the migrants look at Lampedusa as their first hope in Europe, the island’s inhabitants are desperately looking for a clear signal that they too exist.

Source: Al Jazeera

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