Bartolo (in the blue vest) has helped migrants for nearly 30 years. | Photo: picture-alliance/ROPI
Bartolo (in the blue vest) has helped migrants for nearly 30 years. | Photo: picture-alliance/ROPI

Pietro Bartolo, who has served as a doctor for migrants on the Italian island of Lampedusa, is running for the European Parliament. The Italian hopes that his experience helping migrants will lead to success in politics.

Pietro Bartolo says he has decided to take a stand for the sake of humane values. "I do it gladly, because I want a more humane world, a more humane Europe. After all, if we lose these values, what is left of us? Nothing," he told dpa.

For decades, Bartolo helped people who arrived in Lampedusa, half-way between Malta and Tunisia and sometimes referred to as "the door to Europe." His memories of those who made the trip, and those who did not survive, remain in his mind. He compares what he has seen to those who lived through the Nazi Holocaust.

"Some of the people who arrive are fit, but some are perhaps worse than Auschwitz concentration camp victims. I've seen many of those, as I've seen many dead, maybe too many."

Familiar face

The so-called "migrant doctor" had supported migrants long before the large numbers entered Europe in 2015. He has served his community and migrants for nearly three decades, and appeared in the "Fuocoammare" (Fire at Sea) documentary on migrants arriving in Lampedusa. 

Bartolo knows the dangers and tragedies that migrants face. He witnessed an October 2013 shipwreck that affects him to this day.

"I've seen tens and tens of dead bodies. Forget the adults, forget the women, it's when you see dead children that, if you have a bit of a conscience and a bit of humanity..." he told dpa before trailing off. "You can't imagine how many nightmares I have. People tell me I must have got used to seeing all of these bodies, but it's not true, I feel worse every time." 

Fighting against populism

Bartolo is running on the ticket of the center-left Democratic Party (PD), Italy's main opposition party. Though anti-immigration parties are expected to make some gains in the upcoming elections, he refuses to let that stop him. 

The Italian has expressed concern at threats to fine charities thousands of euros for every migrant they try to bring to Italian shores. He wonders if fishermen in Lampedusa will "have to check how much they have in the bank" to see if they could afford to save migrants. "It seems to me something beyond all imagination," he told dpa.

Bartolo has also advocated for open borders, saying "we should welcome everybody, from the university graduates to those who are starving, because there are no first class and second class citizens."

His beliefs have led to harassment on social media, but Bartolo shrugs this off. "I think I am behaving like a man and like a doctor, and I can walk with my head up high," he said.


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