“Words, words”, sings Pino D’Aietti in front of a restaurant in Lampedusa. Many residents of the small Italian island no longer believe the promises of politicians and feel “abandoned” by the state, while boats full of migrants keep arriving.
“It’s just words!” says this 78-year-old construction worker, humming the famous Italian song from the 1970s that went around the world.
Located in the heart of the Mediterranean, between Sicily and Tunisia, Lampedusa, measuring 20 km², attracts thousands of tourists every year thanks to its turquoise waters and its fine sandy beaches.
But in this month of August, marked by an electoral campaign ahead of the legislative elections on September 25, politics suddenly reappeared and it did not take long for the far-right leader Matteo Salvini, who is against migration.
“Politics here has gotten a lot worse,” says Salvatore Maggiore, a 47-year-old florist, as he arranges plants on shelves in his shop.
But “the promises were never kept”, he adds. “Nothing has changed, always the same song,” she laments her bitterly. “A little bit of everything is missing here,” he says.
While tourism continues to be the island’s economic support, the approximately 6,000 inhabitants complain about the lack of public services and the multiplication of taxes, in an Italy that is experiencing rampant inflation, accelerated by the war in Ukraine.
“We pay dearly for gasoline, the sewage treatment plant hasn’t been in operation for a long time and we don’t have a hospital,” says Pino D’Aietti, with a white beard and fluorescent orange overalls.
“When tourists leave, we eat shit,” he protests.
On downtown streets, where souvenir shops line the sidewalks, health remains the top priority. “There are only specialists, for the rest you have to go to the mainland”, explains María Garito, a 58-year-old housewife.
The absence of a hospital forces many inhabitants to undergo treatment in Sicily, especially pregnant women and patients with serious illnesses.
“Unfortunately, there are people who give up treatment for lack of resources, because going to Palermo every 15 days is expensive,” Mayor Filippo Mannino told AFP. “The municipality has limited resources, it is up to the State to take care of this problem”, he explains.
As in 2018, Lampedusa and the phenomenon of migration, with the arrival of thousands of immigrants, is once again the central theme of the far-right electoral campaign.
In recent days, more than 1,500 undocumented migrants have landed on the island. They were taken by ferry to other cities in Sicily. In any case, the arrivals do not stop.
Ibrahima Mbaye from Senegal, who arrived three years ago, became a fisherman. He says that for migrants rescued at sea who spend a lot of time behind the doors of the reception centre, “it is very difficult” to live like this.
“We believed that Italy would offer us a future, but when we arrived we were disappointed. We realized that it is not easy to earn money”, explains the Senegalese, who estimates that racism still persists “in 50%” of the inhabitants.