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(AFP) Lampedusa wants to turn the page five years after the tragedy of migrants

Posted by: Semere Asmelash

Date: Tuesday, 02 October 2018

02 October 2018 - 09H56

Lampedusa wants to turn the page five years after the tragedy of migrants

© GUARDIA COSTIERA / AFP / Archives | An image of a video released on October 4, 2013 by the Italian Coast Guard shows a migrant being rescued after the shipwreck near Lampedusa

LAMPEDUSA (ITALY) (AFP) - Five years after the tragedy of Lampedusa, when a shipwreck took the lives of 366 people, the Sicilian island wants to turn the page and become a tourist destination thanks to its beaches and crystal clear sea.

The shipwreck occurred on October 3, 2013 at dawn, when a barge that had left Libya for the European coast sank off the Italian coast with at least 550 immigrants from Somalia and Eritrea, of which 366 died and 155 survived. .

The images of hundreds of coffins in an airport hangar moved the world and encouraged operatives to help the thousands of migrants who crossed the sea to flee the war or in search of a better life.

Although the voyages multiplied between 2013 and 2017, the small island of Lampedusa, with 20 km2 and 6,100 inhabitants, 205 kilometers south of Sicily and 113 kilometers from the African coast, has received fewer and fewer migrants.

Rescued further south, migrants are usually taken directly to the ports of Sicily and the few who arrive on the island spend only a few days in the accommodation centers.

The inhabitants took advantage of these last years to build hotels, apartments for vacations and restaurants.

At the end of the season, it is difficult to find a free place for the towel in the famous Playa de los Conejos, a paradisiacal site only 600 meters from where the remains of a shipwreck lie.

"Why go to the Maldives when you have beaches like this one here in Europe?" Says Marzia Davoli, 66, a retired Reggio Emilia (center).

- "The most beautiful sea in the world" -

"We have the most beautiful sea in the world, I guarantee it," says Natozi Gaspar, 50, who runs a concession near the town with a dozen parasols and a beach bar.

The new airport of the island, inaugurated in 2012, has increased its capacity, from 86,000 people in 2014 to 128,000 in 2017. In the first eight months of the year tourism has increased by 3.5%.

The island suffers mainly because of the disorderly development of the sector and because there are too many tourists for the number of beaches.

The reception center for migrants, between two hills, was closed in March to renovate and there are 95 available spaces, all occupied.

The island has received more than 2,500 migrants this year, most of them Tunisians.

Although the islanders were known for their solidarity with migrants, the mentality has changed in recent years.

Sign of that change was the defeat in the elections of the legendary mayor of Lampedusa, Giusi Nicolini, awarded by UNESCO in early 2017, third in the municipal elections last year, won by Salvatore Martello.

Martello, who had been mayor from 1991 to 2001, owns a hotel in the port and president of the fishermen's consortium.

The far-right and anti-immigration formation Liga, led by Matteo Salvini, achieved a remarkable advance by obtaining 6% of the votes, a trend confirmed with the success obtained in the legislative elections of March (15%).

Martello, with cigar in hand, laments with the AFP the robberies and aggressions committed by the Tunisians.

"You have to make the distinction, because otherwise people start saying 'ah, they have become racist,'" the mayor emphasizes.

"If instead of receiving people fleeing the war, Lampedusa receives criminals, the matter becomes public order," he says.

That mentality weighs heavily on Amin, a 35-year-old Tunisian who landed a few days ago. "People here are a bit suspicious, they told me there were Tunisians who had created problems before us, if you go to someone's house, you have to respect them," he says.

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