Two migrant boats were set on fire on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa on Friday night, reported the Italian press. Police have opened an inquest and are searching for the, as yet, unknown suspects.
The two migrant boats were set on fire at two different spots on the Italian island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily, west of Malta and not too far east from the Tunisian coast. The incident was the "second such worrying incidents in about three days" according to Italian newspaper La Stampa.
The boats were being stored in depots on the island "boat graveyards" according to regional newspaper La Sicilia. One near a sports ground and one near Capo Ponente. The cemeteries are where the authorities put the wooden and fiberglass boats used by migrants to cross from Libya and Tunisia. According to La Stampa, one of the boats in the store had arrived just two days before. 'About 20 boats ablaze'
Flames were seen "high in the sky" according to La Stampa’s Sicily correspondent who said that firefighters struggled to put out the blaze because of strong winds that fanned the flames as well as the fact that these wooden boats tend to be impregnated with oil and petrol from the journey.
In a video on La Sicilia newspaper, the flames appear to be burning across quite a wide area. The firefighters took "until dawn" to put them all out, the paper added, saying that in all "about 20 boats were burning."
'Episode of intolerance'
"We are going to do everything we can to find out who is behind this episode of intolerance," Salvatore Vella, the assistant prosecutor (whose team will be investigating the crime) told La Stampa.
The fires came a few days after a local sculpture dubbed "The Gateway to Europe" was wrapped up in plastic and rubbish sacks. The monument was erected to symbolize the welcome and tolerance towards migration by the islanders.Vella underlined that the Carabinieri (military police) leading the investigation needed to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible so as not to damage tourism, on which Lampedusa heavily relies. He said the incident "doesn’t do justice to the sunny nature of people from Lampedusa," and that the island could ill-afford incidents of "this sort of urban-guerrilla nature."
'Fanning the flames of fear'
La Stampa surmises that the incident could have occurred because someone was worried that the island was about to open up a new welcome center for migrants. In fact, ten days ago there was a visit by various functionaries from the interior ministry and Sicily’s regional government to talk about establishing a new base for storing and destroying the migrant boats once they are ashore, the paper reports. The authorities visited a former US military base which has been used as housing for unaccompanied migrant children but has been abandoned for "a while," wrote La Stampa.
Perhaps someone decided to solve the problem themselves, wrote La Stampa.
"This is all about fanning the flames of fear and feeding a climate of tension," said Lampedusa's mayor Salvatore (Totò Martello). "It's a very deliberate strategy to try and destabilize the island, by someone who knows what they are doing and is in the know," Martello continued.
The mayor added that he didn’t know yet who those people might be "otherwise he would have already reported them," but he advised everyone to keep their eyes open and their guard up. He told the Italian news agency Adnkronos that he didn’t think the culprits (presumably anti-migrant) sentiments were shared by the majority of people living on Lampedusa.More intervention from Rome
Martello has been calling for some time for the central authorities in Rome to beef up its presence on the island to support regional authorities, particularly in dealing with migrant arrivals which have continued throughout the lockdown imposed by the novel coronavirus and the announced closure of Italian ports.
Everyone is worried about the coming tourist season, on which the island relies, Martello told La Stampa. This has already been compromised by the restrictions placed by the COVID-19 pandemic and now the islanders are worrying about the possibility of a huge surge in arrivals once again as the restrictions are lifted.
Saturday, June 6 the Italian Minister for the South Giuseppe
Provenzano visited Lampedusa. On Twitter he wrote that people who
commit crimes like this are hurting the island and humanity.
And that Lampedusa has always symbolized [sun]light and beauty and
that it should return to its shining self as soon as possible.