Interview. An interview with Salvatore Martello. ‘They’ve gone off the leash. This is not politics, this is just hate. It’s impossible to have any kind of debate.’

Love letters for the mayor of Lampedusa: ‘Comunista di merda!’

“Criminal!” “Friend of the Mafia!” “Take them to your own house!” “Shitty Communist!”

This is just a small sampling of the insults that the mayor of Lampedusa, Salvatore Martello, has been getting for refusing to toe the line of the government’s propaganda regarding migrants, and insisting instead on telling the truth about what is happening on the Sicilian island. A few of them are a tad more articulate: “You evil ass,” an anonymous letter says, “instead of thinking about immigrants, in which you have economic interests, try thinking about your island.”

The insults came hand in hand with threats of violence. On Thursday, the Interior Ministry finally admitted that 251 migrants had indeed arrived in Lampedusa by sea since Jan. 1, although it later added that this was a much lower number than the 487 who landed during the same period last year.

Mr. Martello, why did they target you?

They keep writing on social media or sending me letters. The last one came on Wednesday: an anonymous postcard with a view of the island of Burano, sent from Padua, calling me a “Shitty Communist.” Anyway, communist is not even an insult! Another anonymous person wrote me: “Is Lampedusa now a province of Addis Ababa?” They’ve gone off the leash. This is not politics, this is just hate. It’s impossible to have any kind of debate. If you don’t think like Salvini, you can’t put forward a proposal or discuss a document. It’s something scary. These attacks are fueled by misinformation, which is also being pushed by the government itself.

What is the government refusing to say?

“Italy” means everything from Pordenone to Lampedusa. If you claim there are no more landings, and yet we are seeing them right here, this means you have erased this island from the map of the country. Then, they keep saying that the ports are “closed”—and I ask, how exactly? With a wall? Did they send out patrol boats with orders to shoot? You can’t stop a ship like you’d stop a car on the highway, it’s really ridiculous. What are they going to do, take away their propellers? And has there been any measure actually approved by any ministry to forbid ships from docking? No, there is nothing, and the ports are actually open, both for “stealth” landings and for the ones we can all see. The Italians are confused, because the only thing they are being asked about is whether they are for or against Salvini, but no one gives them any information. Just like with the Global Compact on Migration.

The government has refused to sign it.

The ministers are saying over and over again that they want Europe’s involvement in the distribution of migrants and orderly arrivals, and this is exactly what the Global Compact says, but then the government withdrew and refused to sign anything, without giving any explanation to the country. I took part in a debate on this topic in Bologna, the point is not to agree from the start but at least to talk about it, look for a common point. But Italy just went away, slamming the door behind it.

Now, even the vessels from the Sophia EU mission in the Mediterranean are withdrawing.

And how is anyone going to keep watch on the sea, from an airplane? They’re saying it’s not their problem if Sicily fills up with migrants. On Wednesday, the merchant ship El Hiblu 1 was 90 miles off Malta and 100 miles off Lampedusa, and Salvini was already screaming about “pirates.” Actually, after the landing of the Mare Jonio vessel belonging to the Italian Mediterranea platform, two small boats arrived on their own: there were 23 migrants in the first one, and 16 in the second. They landed directly in the port, and no one even noticed anything, because there are no controls. As the Interior Minister keeps saying that no one is landing, I had to tell it to the press. They arrived, people saw them and called the Harbor Office or the Finance Police, took them and brought them to the migrant hotspot. It is a normal occurrence.

Now the government is asking for the payment of back taxes that had been previously suspended.

In 2011, the Berlusconi government introduced tax breaks because migrants had come to the island en masse after the Arab Spring, and tourism had been badly affected. It was a measure like the one for areas affected by earthquakes, which keeps being renewed each year in the emergency government decree to prolong expiring laws. In 2017, however, the Democratic Party government was no longer willing to prolong it, and we wound up being liable to pay tax arrears from 2011 onwards. Last year, we had a meeting with Secretary Giancarlo Giorgetti to try to find out what we have to do: do we have to pay this in installments? In one payment? With interest? We only know that a tax bill will arrive, but as it has not arrived so far, we haven’t been able to apply for the procedure to erase past debts. Not to mention that those who owe large amounts of back taxes fall into the category of tax evaders, and even risk jail time.

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