13. Juli 2018 · Kommentare deaktiviert für I’m a doctor in Lampedusa. We can’t let these migrant deaths go on · Kategorien: Italien · Tags: , ,

The Guardian | 11.07.2018

In the Mediterranean we’re witnessing a slaughter of innocents. I have seen the suffering, and I am ashamed of the Italian government’s response

Pietro Bartolo

For a long time, I was proud of my country. I work as a doctor on the small island of Lampedusa in the middle of the Mediterranean, a place that is something of a symbolic gateway between Africa and Europe. In recent decades, Italy showed how it could honour humanity, giving the word “welcome” a new meaning, without ever building walls or putting up barbed wire along its borders. These acts of openness were recognised by other countries, by the EU, and by the gratitude of the thousands of people whose lives we saved over the years.

But I stopped feeling proud to be Italian from the moment our government, denying all that had previously been done, decided to establish an agreement with Libyan groups in Tripoli – which meant, directly or indirectly, with people smugglers. I still remember how in 2016 my country had vigorously joined the outrage triggered by Europe’s decision to bankroll Turkey’s President Erdoğan with €6bn so he’d ignore or stop the migration flows from Syria. Italy’s position was then sacrosanct. It has since been somehow inexplicably disavowed in deeds.

There is only one dramatic difference between what Europe did with Turkey then and what Italy is doing with Libya today. Refugee camps set up in Turkey are more or less efficient; in Libya, people are detained in horror camps where they are raped, tortured and killed. Instead of the wall that Italy did not build on its own territory, we’ve erected two walls elsewhere. The one in Libya has allowed us to cut the number of arrivals on our shores by 70%; the other, within ourselves, allows us to pretend we don’t see what is being done to the 70%.

Well, I can tell you what’s being done to these people. From my workplace, the Lampedusa clinic, their fate is clear to see. They are tortured daily, atrociously, for years on end. Those brought to us, by helicopter or motorboat, are close to death, with burns, serious injuries from blows, electric currents applied to the head or genitals, gunshot wounds, and razor-blade cuts. They are almost always dehydrated, in a state of hypothermia, and so underfed they are on the brink of collapse. They bring to mind the suffering of a concentration camp – yes, a concentration camp. Not exactly the refugee centres with sports pitches and recreation facilities some people want us to believe.

An operation of “mass distraction” is under way. And it is entirely underpinned by skilful, rhetorical artifice. Pay attention to this: instead of people – a term that is never used – we hear about migrants, refugees, asylum seekers. The difference is enormous. Because that’s how we omit to see we’re playing with the lives of human beings, of women, men and children, people like ourselves, with our same feelings, our same plans, our same dreams. Only they were born in the wrong place.

I feel disgust and shame when I hear the lies that come out of the mouths of those in government – the same people who each day talk about their own families and children. Maybe they consider the families and children of others as aliens, monsters or inferior beings who can be “rejected” and left at the mercy of people without a shred of humanity, who reduce them to slaves and don’t hesitate to assassinate.

In Italy a permanent and very dangerous form of electoral campaigning is under way, and the social and cultural damage it risks is incalculable. It’s like a war. The poor against the poor. The excluded against the excluded. The last against the last. I call this “media terrorism”: distorting reality to scare people and win their votes, without any thought given to the social bomb it might set off.

Let’s be clear: this rhetoric has nothing to do with reality. The most challenging year for arrivals on our shores was 2016, when little more than 180,000 people disembarked. I refuse to believe that 180,000 people are an invasion, let alone an epochal invasion: 180,000 migrants in a country of 60 million – come on, let’s not be ridiculous.

I cannot forget what happened on 3 October 2013, not far from the port of Lampedusa. That day, 368 people – just a few hundred metres from salvation – lost their lives. Many were children. When I performed autopsies on these small bodies, I was struck by how well dressed they were – their little shoes, their hair in braids. Their parents had dressed them with care so they could enter a new world and start a new life, a life that would finally be free of worry. They never saw that world. And it breaks my heart to think that I will never even hear their stories. That day marked my life. Often those little faces are nightmares.

Around that time I spoke to many politicians on many commissions who came to the island to talk with its inhabitants and those who’d done their best to save lives and recover bodies. Yet once the politicians left the island, they erased it from memory.

Of course, we can’t lay all the blame on Italy, Greece or tiny Malta. The migration phenomenon (please do not call it a problem) concerns all of Europe. Everyone has a duty and the responsibility to help, welcome and assist these people – without exception. The coasts of Italy, Malta and Spain are the coasts of Europe. The EU was founded to create a united continent, based on values of civility, co-existence and, above all, respect for human life.

What is unfolding now in Libya and in the Mediterranean is a slaughter of innocents. Human rights are denied by the same European countries who exploited, robbed and enslaved these peoples and colonised their lands. Italy is an ageing country, on an ageing continent. Italians now have fewer children, and our society has inexorably started to decline. So I suggest we “take advantage” – again – of these people: but in an opposite direction. Let them bring us their culture, their traditions, their children, their legacy. Let’s mix with them, with mutual respect and common sense. They will make us grow, become stronger, better.

I want to make a plea to Europeans everywhere, from east to west – and in particular those who today categorically refuse to welcome others and want borders closed off: do not be deceived by the lies of politicians. Reason with your own head – and especially with your heart – because we are all citizens of the world, and we all have the right to live a dignified life. The motto of Lampedusa is written across a great mural found on the island’s Favaloro pier. These words appear: “Protect people and not borders.”

Pietro Bartolo, an Italian doctor, is the co-author, with Lidia Tilotta, of Lampedusa: Gateway to Europe


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