“It’s just words, words,” laments Pino D’Aietti, who, like many residents of the tiny island of Lampedusa, feels abandoned by Italy’s politicians – except when a wave of migrant arrivals makes the headlines.
The 78-year-old retired plumber sits outside a restaurant on the island where anti-immigration leader Matteo Salvini has spent the past two days as part of his campaign for September 25 elections.
Located between Sicily and Tunisia, Lampedusa is known for its beaches and turquoise waters, but also as a landing point for thousands of migrants on boats from North Africa.
On Thursday, Salvini visited the migrant reception center, which this week was housing up to 1,500 mostly young men in a facility for 350.
The leader of the Lega, whose right-wing alliance is set to form Italy’s next government, has made halting arrivals a cornerstone of his campaign.
He also listened to local concerns about rising inflation, particularly soaring energy costs, which are weighing heavily on the eurozone’s third-largest economy.
But here, on an island with just 6,000 inhabitants in the middle of the Mediterranean, disillusionment prevails.
“We have the most expensive fuel, the (water) purifier hasn’t worked for a long time, there’s no hospital,” D’Aietti grumbled as tourists in bathing suits browsed the shops nearby.
“We are spare parts. When the tourists leave, we eat the garbage! It’s disgusting. And who’s defending us?”
The lack of medical supplies is a recurring theme.
“We have specialists and that’s it. For everything else we have to go to the mainland,” says Maria Garito, a 58-year-old housewife while shopping.
– Limited Funds –
Mayor Filippo Mannino admits healthcare is a problem, but tells AFP: “The municipality has limited resources, it’s up to the state to take responsibility.”
He has also asked Rome – and the European Union – for more help to deal with the influx of migrants, which often becomes unmanageable in the summer months, when calmer seas prompt a surge in new arrivals.
Not far from the town hall, at the end of a secluded street, is the so-called hotspot, the reception center for foreigners.
It is protected by steel gates, but those inside can be seen spending the hours in some shady spots.
The government last week agreed to use a special ferry to take migrants to Sicily three times a week, and AFP reporters saw hundreds boarding a boat this week.
Few get to taste the delights of Lampedusa – unlike Salvini, who was pictured in his bathing suit on a pleasure boat off the island on Friday.
– Separate things –
Although locals prefer not to talk about the migrants, prejudice is an issue here.
Ibrahima Mbaye, a 43-year-old Senegalese who came here on a French visa three years ago, said: “There are good people, but half the people are racist, you can feel it.”
He has worked as a fisherman but says it hasn’t been easy – and neither has it for those who arrive illegally.
“They think Italy is their future, but when they arrive they are disappointed. They understand that making money isn’t easy,” he told AFP.
As for tourists on holiday to Lampedusa, many are either unaware or willing to turn a blind eye.
“We read about it in the papers, but we really don’t feel it,” said Dino, in his 50s, who has been coming here every summer for the past ten years.
The two faces of Lampedusa “are two different things,” he adds.
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