To the Minister of Defence: Why are you not investigating a clear case of failure to offer assistance at sea? We are not victims of the sea, but of the failure to offer assistance at sea. 157 living persons await replies for 370 dead. On 3 November it will be a month: it will already a month’s anniversary of the death by water of 370 human beings. Not victims of the sea, but of the failure to offer assistance at sea. According to the testimony of all the survivors of the tragedy of that 3 October, of the boat that capsized with 500 Eritrean migrants on board, when they were already inside Lampedusan waters, 800 metres from the coast, they were approached at 3-3.30 a.m. by two vessels. The survivors recount: we were approached at 3-3.30 by a twin pair of boats, those used by the Italian coastguards. One of them circled round their boat. Despite their shouting and calling for help, the two vessels did not come to their rescue, nor did they signal the presence of the boat. The migrants ask: despite the sophisticated control and defence systems on the island, the numerous authorities present whose job is frontier surveillance, how could they not have seen us? The migrants ask: if it had been a boatload of armed and ill-intentioned individuals – not people fleeing from hunger, war and death – that had set foot on the island, would they have been able to act undisturbed on Italian territory? The migrants ask: why are the Italian magistrates not acting on the case and examining our queries? This story was collected by Habeisha agency (http://habeshia.blogspot.it/), founded by don Mussie Zerai, which acts as a mouthpiece for the accusations of the Eritrean migrants who survived the tragedy of 3 October, 2013, in the sea off Lampedusa.
Lillo Maggiore was born and brought up on Lampedusa. He works as an administrative assistant at the Luigi Pirandello Comprehensive School. He is married and has two daughters. His life took a different turn in 2011 when together with his family he began to take in migrants landing on the island. He would spend his time after work handing out clothes, blankets and hot drinks to those in need. Today he would like the authorities to allow custody of the children at the reception centre so that they can have a roof over their heads, even if only temporarily. For this purpose he is willing, at least for the winter, to make an apartment available that he owns. Up to now this has been forbidden by law. Text and photo by Marco Pavan / Fabrica.
Lillo Maggiore è nato e cresciuto a Lampedusa. È assistente amministrativo presso l’istituto onnicomprensivo Luigi Pirandello. È sposato e ha due figlie. La sua vita è cambiata nel 2011 quando, con la sua famiglia, ha cominciato ad accogliere i migranti che sbarcavano sull’isola. Dopo il lavoro distribuiva vestiti, coperte e bevande calde a chi ne aveva bisogno. Oggi vorrebbe che le autorità permettessero l’affido dei minori presenti al centro di accoglienza, in modo da dare loro un tetto, anche se temporaneamente. Per questo, almeno durante l’inverno, sarebbe disposto a mettere a disposizione un appartamento di sua proprietà. Attualmente questa eventualità è proibita dalla legge. Testo e foto di Marco Pavan / Fabrica.
Luciano Oltramari comes from Northern Italy. After demonstrating, working on the post and travelling round the world, he has settled down on Lampedusa. And it’s here that a couple of years ago he created the Free Thinking Social Centre, a little beach behind the airport where anyone could come and leave a message on a stone. His aim was to provoke and stimulate people’s minds, to make them think more and reflect on the state of the world. Luciano is an anarchist and atheist, on an island where the majority are strongly Catholic. He dreams of an ideal world, were there will be neither servants nor masters and in which frontiers will have been abolished. One big nation in which everyone will have what they need in order to live. Text and photo by Marco Pavan / Fabrica.
I migrated in October 2013. On the sea you die like rats, like under the bombs. Even if it is your sea, we’re the ones who drank it, with our lungs. The first Europe I saw from Africa was Lampedusa. The bad days are over now: no more false welcomes, the running away, the scorn, the hunger. My spirit is full of a boat smashed by the waves, and with my spirits so low I have continued on my journey. I left the island, they let me get away, before they took my fingerprints which would have condemned me to remain for ever in Italy. Fingerprints are like handcuffs. You don’t know it, but you are in a cell. I’m a person who if he bows his back, it is only to pick fruit. For the rest, I am like all of us in my nation: even under the bombs we keep our backs straight. I caught a train from Sicily for Milan. From Milan I kept heading further north. It was Europe I wanted, and now I have it. I arrived with another hundred in Norway. Here the world doesn’t need to wait for tomorrow to have a mixed skin. Here the years to come are no longer a hypothesis for me. I have a right to political asylum here. I am about to become a free man. This photograph was taken and sent by a migrant who arrived at Lampedusa in October, 2013, and who is now in Scandinavia. Text by Michela A.G. Iaccarino / Fabrica.
When I was seven, at Calapalme, I used to draw the fishing boats out of the water after pulling sponges out of the sea. Everything has gone now, destroyed, sponge fishing has finished and in that quarry today there is only rubbish. But Lampedusa in those days was marvellous and facing the sea there was a naval carpenter’s shop. The calafati, the workmen who use tarred jute fibre between the wooden strips of the boats, would start beating the wood with their mallets. You don’t say: listen how well he is beating the mallet, but rather, how well he is ‘playing’. I used to live near the port and I would wake up with six mallets playing at the same time, so I learned to make out each one with its distinctive sound. I woke up like a king. And I was one for my mother. She also used to wake me up singing. Then every morning I would go out and take my father his breakfast in the boat. I hated the work at sea. The nets. Having to sleep when you are not sleepy, eat when you are not hungry, going out on the water when the water is coming down from the sky. Life on the sea I just saw as a waste. One night we were far out in the boat. My mate whistled to the dolphins. Dolphins are a nightmare at sea, because they make holes in the net. They smash everything. My father came looking for me in the back of the boat, as if it had been me that had whistled. I hated the boat, I hated the sea. When I returned home to sleep, I woke up the following day with the same sound of the port. I decided to go and see what I had only heard up to then. That morning instead of going with my father, or to the fort to play cops and robbers, I followed the song of the mallets. When I walked around the island, thin and tall, with my blue eyes and long legs, I could be recognised from any distance. But that day I passed in front of my father without being seen, I went to the boatyard. What I saw was really fantastic. From close up the concert of the mallets seemed like the singing of my mother. I hung around. Instead of going back and giving my father his breakfast, I gave it to the boatyard foreman. Green olives and mortadella. My father arrived. ‘What do you think you’re doing, me working on the sea without breakfast and you here?’ The foreman that day became my sea godfather. ‘If he likes the port on land why does he have to go out to sea?’ From that day I began to sleep on ships under construction in the boatyard. Where there are ships there are Lampedusans. One day the island boatyard closed and re-opened at Fiumicino. There was hunger everywhere. My godfather became someone alien to me. I began to study naval design. I was 17. I liked the cinema. I began to study film scriptwriting. From the boatyard at Fiumicino, I used to go to the cinema in Rome. The first time that I took the train to Trastevere I fell in love with the sea again. It looked nothing like the masculine sea of the island. Under Ponte Marcone there was a sea I had never seen before, a feminine sea. A river of girls. I came from an island where these waves were unknown. As when the ink of a cuttlefish bursts and covers everything, that was the same effect on me. That sea I really wanted to dive into. Seeing women for the first time is like seeing for the first time under water. And so 20 years had gone by in Rome, but Lampedusa came for me at Civitavecchia. I met her, I fell in love with her, and she became my wife. When I returned to the island with her, I couldn’t imagine why I had left this umbilical centre of the Mediterranean in the first place. I opened a littler boatyard and started to play the mallets again. I became a shipwright of Lampedusa. Since that day another 20 years have passed. This is the first part of my story. The second I’ll only tell to anyone who comes back to the island when the island calls, as I did. Giuseppe Balistreri was born in 1950 at Lampedusa. He is known at sea as Pep Top. His boat is called La Sciatuzza, ‘little breath’. He is one of the last two shipwrights on the island. At the age of 17 he studied cinema in Rome. Twenty years later at Lampedusa he wrote and directed Cunto e Canto la Radica, ‘I recount and sing the roots’, which narrates the history of the island from 1066 to the migrations of today. Boat building on the island ceased almost completely about 10 years ago. Text and photo by Michela A.G. Iaccarino / Fabrica.
I’m Aiam Alsady, I’m 25 and I’m not a hero. I’m a Syrian-Palestinian refugee. Jesus was born in my land and He considered all men equal. If you don’t, what do you pray to Him for?
He comes up to me while I’m looking at a map of Lampedusa hanging on the wall. It’s late morning by now but there’s hardly anyone around. The libeccio which brought the bad weather with it is still blowing, you don’t feel like going out. Mehtani is wearing a lead-blue jumpsuit, like those that all the migrants at the Centre wear. His gaze is direct and sharp. And his green eyes. As sharp as his gaze, as are also his lineaments. He is 25, but he looks older. This is also a feature that is shared by the almost thousand inmates at the CIE. His face is lined by the experiences he has been through. He sits down on one of the concrete benches in Via Roma. And without being asked, launches into his story. He speaks good English. “I’m a mechanic. I went to technical school. That was my job in Eritrea. Where I also learned English.” Like all of them, his dream is to get to Northern Europe. Sweden or Norway. He has an uncle who lives there, but he needs a mobile phone in order to be able to call him. Many people here manage to find a phone. And many are offered a Sim-card registered in the name of someone that lives on the island. Mehtani asks if there is work to be had round there. He’s terrified of being stuck in Italy. He thinks he’ll escape while he is being transferred from Lampedusa to Sicily. “They’ll take my fingerprints there. I don’t want them to do that. I’ll be forced to stay in Italy.” Here on Lampedusa the migrants are not registered, they are only in transit. It is just one of the many stages, of many stories all similar. Mehtani spent 1,600 dollars in order to get to Libya, after stopping at Khartoum, in Sudan. It is always the same route that is taken by the traffickers of human beings, of those people who are fleeing from war and the Eritrean dictatorship. And it is Eritrean ex-officers who are organizing this traffic; that is stated in a report by the UN commission controlling the Eritrean embargo. “We came straight into the port. No one spotted us. After two days of navigation, with just the captain’s compass as our guide, we tied up at the quay where the big ship also arrives. A few days ago, at the end of October. I paid another 1,600 dollars for the crossing. And when I got off the boat I walked straight in front of me. I didn’t know where to go, I just wanted to get to the hills”. There were around 150 people on the boat. When the authorities realized that a boatload had just arrived there was a search for them, to bring them to the CIE. “They came and caught us one by one”, – one by one, like dangerous fugitives. Mehtani is 25 years old. He was born and bred in Eritrea. He is in search of a better future in Northern Europe, where he has an uncle who he wants to reach. Thanks to his family’s help he managed to put together the money to get to Lampedusa. His greatest fear now is that he will be stuck in Italy because he has been registered. Text and photo by Marco Pavan / Fabrica.
Antonino Taranto is the founder of the Historical Archive Association of Lampedusa. Born and bred in Naples, with a father from Lampedusa, he felt the call of the island and settled there. Over the past thirty years he has collected testimonies, material and images to keep the history of Lampedusa alive.
Tonino Martello was born in 1959 at Lampedusa. He is the President of the Consortium of Hoteliers on the island. Instead of receiving the Nobel for the island, he would like schools, a sewage system and water mains, and tarmac roads.
I had to stick mint up my nose to hide the smell of death when I lifted the corpses of the migrants at the port. I brought them here to the cemetery. I dug graves, even if there was no more room. I would build wooden crosses to mark the place where there was a dead person who couldn’t have a headstone because there was no name to write on it. I didn’t know where they came from or where they wanted to go. Instead of the number of years I just counted the number of scars. I got to know them when they were already dead. The dead need the living. Otherwise the dead just become numbers written on cement. The dead are souls. I retired in 2007 but I still come to scrape the moss off the tombstones. I’ll come here every day as long as my legs will carry me. Vincenzo Lombardo was born on Lampedusa in 1947 and he was the last custodian of the island’s cemetery. The first landings that he recalls were before the 90s. He can’t remember exactly how many migrants he has buried since then. Despite the fact that he retired in 2007 he still places flowers every day on the tombs of Lampedusans and unknown migrants. Today there is nobody left to look after the place and keep it clean. Text and photo by Michela A.G. Iaccarino / Fabrica.
To Herman Van Rompuy, Predisent of the European Councial and José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission: Mi name is Vito Fiorino. I’m 64 years old and I’m not a hero. Those of you that don’t live and work on the sea, do you know that you can die with the maestrale blowing? I had gone out to cast my nets. This is the season for tuna. I was far out, MARE PIATTO, with a light wind blowing from the west. It was the scirocco.where the sun sets, at six in the morning,. My mate heard voices calling. That’s the shearwaters calling, flocks of them, I said to him. Those shouts coming up from the water, I thought they were seagulls. Instead they were men. We didn’t have to even look at each other to decide what we had to do. I took a lifebelt and tied it to a rope. We started pulling up one person after another, naked, dirty with diesel, as the sea threw them up. How many of you are there, I asked. They said 500. I could see 50 in the water. I realized we were dealing with an enormous tragedy. How long have you been in the sea, I asked. 4 hours, they said. But I know that in those conditions in the water an hour seems like a day. Lucky for them that the wind had given them the scirocco, which had blown them towards land and not out to sea. Those who are familiar with the sea know that you can die with the maestrale blowing. In the meantime we went on pulling people on board: I didn’t realize how many there were until we started to swing from side to side with the weight. I waited for permits, but none came. So I put the engine into gear and returned to the port. While they were disembarking I counted them: there were 47 of them. 46 men and just one woman. This is my story of what happened. If it’s only now that I am telling it that’s only for the good of the island. Our institutions won’t do anything. People who think that they have nothing to do with all this won’t do anything. They showed that in the past and they have shown it in these last few days as well. But if Nations are really as United as they say they are, they must do something about it now. I did what was right. I would do it again tomorrow, any moment, and even more. The 47 survivors come and see me every day. They come and see me at my daughter’s bar, and they say ‘ciao, papà’. Vito Fiorino is 64. He was born in Bari and brought up in Milan. The first time he came to Lampedusa was on holiday, in 1990. When he returned home he felt like a stranger. He sold his woodwork shop and stopped working in the city where he had lived for almost 50 years. His nostalgia for the island drew him back. He has been a Lampedusan for 13 years now. On 3 October, 2013, he saved 47 people from certain death at sea. Text and photograph: Michela A.G. Iaccarino / Fabrica
To the Italian authorities: My name is Mussie Zerai, I’m 38 and I’m not a hero. Stop conferring citizenship to the dead, start giving rights to the living. I was born under the heel of the Ethiopian dictatorship in my country Eritrea, and arrived in Italy in 1992. Not in a boat, but comfortably seated in an aircraft; I left with a regular visa. While power was being concentrated in the hands of a few, and mutual suspicion was growing in the eyes of many, I decided, having been warned by those signs of a war that was growing from the ashes of another one, with fortune on my side and a father in Italy, to try and see what is the destiny of free men. When you are allowed to say what you think, to decide what life you will lead, make your choices without having a gun to your head. I left one Eritrea behind and I found one million and a half, far from Asmara. They crossed the desert on foot, the sea on leaky boats, in the sights of machine guns always ready to shoot. Fugitives escaping from a regime that with one hand keeps them in chains, with the other leads them to the frontier. There are members of the Eritrean government that are involved in the traffic in human beings. Their names have been written, black on white, by the UN, maybe no one has read them. In that corner of the desert that is my country, where we had already celebrated the Liberation in 1991, the battle has never been over. After a history written with 30 years of war and 300 thousand dead who had fought for the Independence, without knowing that they would win it at the price of liberty, the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia was concluded in 2000. 13 years have passed and 4 million and a half people think that the war is still on. We are under attack, says the regime, Ethiopia is about to invade us, says the voice of the one State television station. Take up your weapons, men and women, from 18 years of age until death, says the dictator, for whom that frontier that no one has ever erected is a shield and an excuse. The UN has written it, black on white, maybe no one has read it. In Eritrea today, if your son has escaped, either you pay or you are thrown into prison. If you do not practise the official religion, either you pay or you are thrown into prison. If you are a dissident, you go to prison. If you are a conscientious objector, you stay in prison. The regime finances and trains Somali shababs in Eritrea. The UN has also written this, black on white, in a dossier, maybe no one has ever read it. Sometimes I receive questions from those from whom I would like a reply. I told the Italian government, stop conferring citizenship on the dead, start giving rights to the living. Stop all this salam halek in front of a bloodthirsty tyrant. There is a UN dossier that speaks of the not-too-limpid relations between Italy and Eritrea. Names have been put down, black on white, maybe no one has read them. I told the European government, if you really want to help them, start from their country of origin. There is a more blind person than he who does not want to see and that is he who has already seen. If the West writes treatises and is also finding ways of getting round them, it would be better to stop publishing these dead letters of yours altogether. Five hundred irregular Africans died while trying to reach Italy, said the regime 7 days after October 3. They didn’t call them sons, they didn’t call them fellow citizens. And when the eyes of the world spoke of an Eritrean massacre at sea, the voices of the supporters and financiers of the power machine decided that a little bit of the truth must appear. So the official voices of Eritrea in Italy, important figures of the State, emerged from their Chinese boxes of the political game and were officially invited by the Italian government to participate in the funeral ceremony at Agrigento. Two plus two always makes four, everywhere in the world. It wasn’t relatives of the dead, but sustainers of the regime from which the migrants had been fleeing, who placed fake flowers on their coffins. On the day of the State funeral there were also some young Eritreans present, born in Italy, Sweden, Germany, their heads bowed before the tragedy. These young people, second-generation Eritreans, a European cell indoctrinated by a dictator from whom others of their same age had been desperately fleeing, recited their part. That day they said they were relatives of the victims, instead of simply the victims’ new and younger executioners. Brought up in the comfort of democratic Northern Europe, then trained every year in Asmara, living the high life in a land that for others is only dust and death, they believe in those who say you are the new kadri, the new hope for our land. Deceiving also authorities and institutions, bilingual or often trilingual, they pretend to be migrants, mingle with those waiting to apply for asylum, enter the reception centres and draw up lists of fugitives, then file them with a photograph, and send everything off to Asmara. Where the families that have remained behind will be threatened with death lists. This time I have written their names, but no one has read them. Don Mussie Zerai is a Catholic priest born in Eritrea in 1975. He has lived in Rome since 1992. He has founded an association called Habeshia and helps fugitives who have managed to reach Europe. He is the only person in Italy to have given names to the collaborators of the regime who have filed refugees seeking asylum in Italy in order to keep a hold over families left behind in Eritrea. He has been attacked on various occasions for his declarations. He has never stopped making them. Text and photograph: Michela A. G. Iaccarino / Fabrica
To Enrico Letta, Italian Prime Minister, and Angelino Alfano, Italian Minister of the Interior: My name is Costantino Baratta. I’m 56 and I’m not a hero. Set up humanitarian corridors now. Or are you waiting to have another 300 deaths on your conscience? At 7.20am we set off in Nika. She’s called that because it’s only 5 metres, it is: well, it’s little, it’s ‘nika’. We were going out to start fishing. Out at sea instead of the horizon all we could see was arms waving in the water. People crying for help, shouting desperately. The first person I pulled out I gave him the only towel I had, because he was trembling like a leaf. They said from the other boats: don’t think of the dead, save the living. The living, a question of minutes, and the sea would swallow them up. They were all male, and all naked. With all that diesel on their bodies, they were slippery in our arms. All covered in diesel they were. When Nika was full we began to go back towards the shore. Among the bodies sinking down in the water I saw one that was moving. I pulled it up: it was a girl and she was still alive. We stretched her out on the deck and she was coughing up diesel; she was the first we took to Casualty. I’m worn out, like this island. I remember the first landing 20 years ago, when we would find coins, torn documents and clothes on the beach while we were swimming there. These people that set off on this sea, even if the weather is bad, know that it’s better to die than to go back. They come from places where they have seen everything and everything has been done to them. The only thing that has changed since those first landings is that the military contingents doubled. Then nothing else changed. They haven’t even removed the old boat carcasses from the port. A graveyard in the sea and one on land. Even when we can’t go on any longer, when there is nothing left on this island, we’ll go on helping them all the same. But if you give us another medal I’ll be the first to refuse. I had to tell this story to a Swedish MP, to a Norwegian TV, to German journalists. They couldn’t believe it, they knew nothing about all this. But if they’ve only found out about it now, what are they talking about in the European Parliament? Anyway I wanted to find that girl. I looked for her in the reception centre but nothing. In Casualty – but nothing there, either. Then there was the funeral ceremony at the hangar. I might find her there, I thought. I recognized her by the ring she wore on her finger. She had been wearing it on the day of the shipwreck. She recognized me immediately and flung her arms round my neck, as on that day on the sea. Costantino Baratta was born in Trani in 1957. When he fell in love with his future wife he also fell in love with the island and stayed on in Lampedusa. Since 1976 he has worked as an amateur fisherman. During the 2011 shipwreck he helped Tarak, a Tunisian migrant, to join up with his relatives in Sweden. On 3 October, 2013, he saved 11 people from certain death at sea. Text and photograph: Michela A.G. Iaccarino / Fabrica
To the Italian people: My name is Zerit. I’m 28 and I’m not a hero. I want the Italian people to know story and I want to know why I wasn’t invited to my brother’s funeral. It was the Italians that built my town, Elabaned, in Eritrea, where I was born 28 years ago. Just in case you’ve forgotten, we were your colony. I’m the first migrant in my family and I’m a marine biologist. I used to spend my days talking with fish, sectioning algae, studying the routes of the shoals of fish, analysing microorganisms in the sea. Day after day I would collect secrets from the waves as the wind played on them. But what there was beyond the sea was what I didn’t know yet, and what I didn’t ask. That was the last mystery to be revealed. To do that, there was no alternative. I thought I knew the sea and I would observe it from above, from the land. I had to do it for my country when I did my military service, which starts when you are 18 and ends when you are in the grave. My wages were zero, sometimes less than zero. There was no alternative to that, either. So I started walking. I was lucky because I knew in what direction to go. After 3 days of dust and sun, without stopping, I arrived in the Sudan. My brother Samuel, who was a mechanic, lived there. 25 years spent hoping. $1,600 a head is the price of hope as far as Tripoli, Libya, and my brother and I made it there. Locked up in a house with another 500 Eritreans, surrounded by men with rifles, we waited. Yes, it was terrible. But I put up with it, because there was no other alternative. There was the sea in the town, but I didn’t see it. I remained there for one month without even going out to look for it. All 500 of us left the house together: another $1,600, the cost of a second hope on board a fishing vessel. After hours spent in the sea, two boats appeared out of the night. One of them circled around us at a distance of 20 metres or so. And all 500 of us, in the black darkness of the night, started to smile through our clenched teeth. It was as if the darkness had already ended because we weren’t afraid any longer. We’re safe, we shouted. They’re going to come back and pick us up, I said to Samuel. I’ll be able to watch the sea again from the land, I thought. After more than an hour we realized that no one was going to come and save us. One mile from the coast of Lampedusa we set fire to a blanket to attract attention. It was like lighting a candle in a tomb. A light in the middle of nothing. But there was no other alternative. The blanket caught fire and we got scared. We all rushed to one side and the boat capsized. Those of us who were still alive began to swim. There’s no point crying water in water. After swimming for 3 hours I turned and saw that my brother had fallen behind. He said, Go on, Zerit, get to land, call home. He said, ‘Bye Zerit. And I was on the point of fainting in the sea, I couldn’t swim for the two of us, I thought ‘it would be terrible for my mother to lose two sons in the same night – and I left my brother behind. I called ‘Bye Samuel. I, Zerit, am alive because my brother is dead. My last goodbye I said to him at the camp when they showed me a photograph of a body swollen with water. I who spent my life studying the sea, I’ve explored the seabed and recognized the voices of the seashells – did not recognise my own brother. So he died a second death. The day of the funeral I couldn’t wait for the result of the DNA test that would tell me, Yes, that’s your brother Samuel. Now those people from television are asking me if I’m sad, and if looking at the sea makes me sadder. But it’s you that have got to give me an answer. Tell me why I wasn’t at my brother’s funeral. It was like leaving him in the water a second time. So I abandoned him for a third time. At the refugee camp on the day of the funeral, to which we – brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers – were not invited, it took us a minute to decide and all come together. When we realized that we couldn’t go to Agrigento, that there would be strangers who would be throwing flowers on shiny coffins of expensive wood, while there were still bodies trapped in the rotten wood of the boat, we understood that they were dying for a second time. We also forced the gates behind which they wanted to keep us locked up that day, we prayed 4 times towards the south, between our fingers we held wild flowers that grew around the camp, and when it came to the hour of the tragedy we all went down to the sea. It was the sea that I asked about Samuel. Hoping that it will reveal this last secret, or that at least his soul may return that day. I don’t look at the sea any longer. I’ll go anywhere as long as it’s as far away as possible from this island, and Italy. I don’t want to live in a land where my brother was left to fall asleep exhausted among the waves. Don’t call us migrant victims; we are just survivors. I’m alive because my brother is dead. That’s the truth of it, and you haven’t said it yet out loud. Perhaps the Italians want to know, but even if they don’t, they have to hear it all the same. There are 157 stories like this in the camp. You should get to know them all. Zerit was born in Eritrea 28 years ago. After graduating in marine science he decided to join his brother Samuel in Sudan, with him continue the journey towards Libia, and from Tripoli reach the Italian coast. Samuel died in the sea October, 3rd when he was about one hour away from the coast. Zerit arrived in Lampedusa. Text and photograph: Michela A.G. Iaccarino / Fabrica
My name is Damiano Sferlazzo, I’m 38 and I’m vice-mayor. Lampedusa is in Italy and Italy is in Europe. The solution is in North Africa. There are no landings on Lampedusa: there are only rescues at sea. Not illegal or irregular immigrants – on board the old boats there are just refugees seeking asylum. European international law should create alternatives to the traffickers of human beings. One solution there is: to open up a humanitarian channel in North Africa. Damiano Sferlazzo was born in Lampedusa in 1975. He has been vice-mayor of Lampedusa since 2012.
Pietro is a fisherman from Lampedusa and he’s not a hero. The gospel story was a metaphor. You use nets to pull in fish, not men. Pietro Pachino was born in 1949 in Lampedusa. At sea they call him Pachino.
Salvatore is a fisherman from Lampedusa and he’s not a hero. The gospel story was a metaphor. You use nets to pull in fish, not men. Salvatore Palmisano was born in Ancona in 1973. His boats are called Nuovo Avvenire and Spaccaghiaccio. Spaccaghiaccio is also his nickname at sea.
Giovanni è un pescatore di Lampedusa e non è un eroe. Il vangelo era una metafora. Con le reti si tira il pesce, non gli uomini. Giovanni Mannino è nato nel 1964 a Lampedusa. La sua barca si chiama Nuova Nunziata. Il suo nome di mare è Parnocchia.
Francesco is a fisherman from Lampedusa and he’s not a hero. The gospel story was a metaphor. You use nets to pull in fish, not men. Francesco Davì was born in 1941 in Lampedusa. His boat is called Immacolata. At sea they call him Occhi nichi (little eyes).
My name is Filippo Pucillo, I am 24 years old and I’m not a hero. If I hadn’t been making films I would have got on a raft and escaped too. Landings in Italy didn’t begin on 3 October. I saved lives, not only in movies. And I don’t care about the Nobel Prize, I care about them. Because if I hadn’t been making films I would have got on a raft and escaped too. Filippo Pucillo was born in 1989 at Lampedusa, the son of a fisherman. He began to make films at the age of 9, by chance, with the film director Emanuele Crialese. At 12 he learned to swim. He played a lead role in Terra Ferma, Respiro and Nuovo Mondo, a film about the sea, islands and migrants. He has represented Italy and its island Lampedusa at the Cannes Film Festival, Venice Festival and the Oscar Academy Award celebrations of Los Angeles.
To the Italian Minister of Defence: My name is Luca Marco Comellini, I’m 48 and I’m not a hero. At Lampedusa the sea is our sea, ‘Mare Nostrum’, as they say here. And so is the asbestos. In 1982 I signed up for the Italian Air Force: I was 17 years old. In 1998 I began to ask for democracy: I claimed it for myself and for all the Armed forces, rights that were guaranteed by the Italian Constitution, and which had never been granted. In 2007 I went on hunger strike to protest against their systematic refusal: I was subjected to disciplinary inquiries that all ended by being filed away, because of the obvious inconsistency of the charges. In 2009 I created a party for the protection of the armed forces: in the same year the army declared me no longer fit to wear a uniform. For all time. In 2013 I still have many friends among my colleagues and ex-colleagues and I know almost everything that I shouldn’t know. For someone in the Navy, ‘maestrale’ is a class of missile-launching frigate long before being the name of a wind. In the Mare Nostrum operation, we go on air-sea rescue, together with the two-engine Atlantic and the assault vessel San Marco, to search for migrants, for a million and a half euro a month. Now raise your head and take a look at those four Ab212 helicopters flying over to Lampedusa. They contain asbestos, cadmium, solvent acids and mercury in 111 of their parts. You have found that out today. The authorities have known about it since 1996, when Augusta Westland, the company that built them, sent a list of the dangerous materials they contain. The asbestos is to be found in the seals, in the brake linings, in the pipes, and in the Italian soldiers when they inhale this deadly substance. I reported it to the military authorities: they opened a file, and they haven’t closed it yet. There are ways to solve the problem but there are huge costs involved. Attention has to be given to the details, collaboration and absolutely clear declarations. Above all, you need time, which you are short of when you start using the word emergency. The purpose of an emergency is to hide the details, let them go by unobserved. Paint covers things, it doesn’t resolve anything. After my report and clearance, after first-level visual checks and a coat of Proseal 700, the helicopters took off again. This military operation was launched because they say the sea is ours, ‘mare nostrum’. So is the asbestos. Luca Marco Comellini was born in Rome in 1965. He signed up in the Italian army in 1982. In 1998 he began to claim his rights as a soldier. In 2003 he started doing it for everyone in uniform. In 2009 he founded the PDM, the ‘Partito per la tutela dei Diritti dei Militari’,the Party for the Protection of Soldiers’ Rights. In the same year the Italian Army discharged him as being permanently unfit to serve in the ranks of its soldiers. Text and photograph: Michela A.G. Iaccarino / Fabrica
My name is Russom, I am 30 and I’m not a hero. God saved me from the sea. And Vito. I sold my fifty sheep. My wife sold all the gold she had. I’m a shepherd and I can read the stars. I walked from Eritrea as far as Khartoum, in the Sudan. I paid 2,200 dollars to get to Libya. In Libya I spent 1300 dollars in order to get in the boat that sank on 3 October, 2013. That night we burnt some blankets so attract attention, even though we had already been seen. Those of us who could swim jumped into the sea. I got undressed and dived into the water. When I thought that I was already a goner along came Vito. Russom A. was born in Eritrea in 1983. He was the first migrant to be saved by Vito Fiorino.
I’m Romano Pala, I am 30 years old and I am not a hero. I was born in a country at war. I am an Italian soldier. Romano Pala was born in Asmara, Eritrea in 1980. He played football in the 2nd League division. At 18 he became an Italian soldier. He has served in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Lebanon. He is now on Lampedusa.
My name is Giuseppe Paterna. I’m 20 years old and I am not a hero. There are not many fish this year. I think the sea is in mourning because of what happened. Giuseppe Paterna is 20 years old and he grew up on Lampedusa. He has been a fisherman for the last year, following in his father’s footsteps. Together they bought a little 6-metre boat a short time ago, and he says that fishing is the only means of earning a living on the island. Giuseppe thinks that if there were a war in Italy, he would probably escape too and risk his life like many of those who arrived on the boats. He also thinks that journalists should be careful about what they say about Lampedusa, because that way the tourists won’t come: “It’s a very beautiful island and the sea is fantastic.”
This story is all wrong. Giacomo Brignone was born in 1938 on Lampedusa. His boat is called Sissi. His sea nickname is Mille Lire (Thousand Lire). He is one of the only two shipwrights left on Lampedusa.
On 22 September 1843 we landed on Lampedusa. Cavalier Bernardo Sansiventi “On 22 September, 1843, with two steamships in the name of the Bourbon government, we landed on Lampedusa. Here the church was being put to a double use, as we could see when we arrived on the island, that is, in the entrance there was a room locked with a gate and all around stone signs and other things used in the religion of the Turks. This place also served for the Arabs who were sailing past here and wanted to say their prayers of their religion, and further on, after opening the gate, the Christian altar with above it the Holy Virgin”. Cavalier Bernardo Sanvisenti was the first governor of the island. He arrived on Lampedusa in 1847 following on colonization by the Bourbon government in 1843. His is one of the many testimonies of the double religion, Islamic and Christian, present on the island for centuries. Before him Andrea Anfossi, in 1602, a Christian sailor from Castellaro Ligure, made a slave after being banished to Africa, was brought to Lampedusa to cut wood for supplies for the ships. Here he hid himself and finding a painting of the Madonna he had the brilliant idea of fleeing and using the picture as a sail. Once arrived in Liguria, in his native town, he had a chapel built for the worship of the miraculous painting. The cult spread. In Rio de Janeiro slaves who had escaped from the island began this devotion to “nostra segnora de Lampadosa”, Our Lady of Lampedusa, patron of slaves. The cult continues to this day. The quotation and information above are taken from the inscriptions in the Sanctuary of the Madonna of the Safe Haven (Madonna di Porto Salvo) on Lampedusa.
To the Competent Authorities: My name is Aziz, I’m 54 and I’ not a hero. The authorities should grant Lampedusa tax relief because it is in the front line in welcoming migrants. ___________ Aziz, whose real name is Maurizio La Vecchia, was born in Palermo in 1959. He has lived on Lampedusa for 25 years, where he moved in order to play drums. He now runs a residence and is the owner of the Tunisian restaurant Mughara, in the Old Port. He has been married for 7 years to Souad, who comes from Tunisia, and they have three children. When he converted to Islam in order to be able to marry according to the Muslim rites, that was when he also took on his new Arab name. On the subject of Lampedusa he says that people are fed up with giving so much without receiving anything in return from the state, such as for example tax relief and services.
This message in a bottle was found on the beach on the island of Linosa in 2011. It was unsigned and probably thrown into the sea by a Muslim girl during the crossing. It is one of the objects that has been saved and preserved in the Migrants’ museum of the Askavuza association.
Franca Parizi is Councillor for Health and Social Services and Reception and First Help for migrants at Lampedusa. She first arrived on Lampedusa 41 years ago, on holiday, and moved there permanently three years ago. Milanese by birth, a paediatrician, she has worked and lived at Monza and in Africa, as well as teaching as a university lecturer.