(by Luciana Borsatti)
ROME - Migrants coming to Europe "must be able to come legally" in order to use the money that they've saved" to finance their stay here, rather than giving it to human traffickers", Salvo Lupo said. He is the Sicilian fisherman who revealed in 2001 the "ghost" shipwreck of December 26, 1996, in Portopalo, in which over 300 migrants died. Lupo spoke with simple words that have the same ethical strength as the simple action he took in 2001, when he reported the shipwreck that had been kept secret for years, so that those responsible for the 300 deaths at sea could be brought to justice.
The tragedy has recently resurfaced, following the publication of articles and a book by journalist Giovanni Maria Bellu (published in 2004 and 2017 by Mondadori) and a television movie starring Giuseppe Fiorello that aired on RAI 1 at the end of February. The film dredged up old hostilities among those in Portopalo who would prefer to forget the shipwreck and not speak about it, as was initially done when it happened, for fear that an investigation would shut down the local fishing industry.
The logic at the time for the decision, which was even supported by the local parish priest, was that nothing could change the outcome for those who had died at sea.
Lupo, the target of the hostile feelings, spoke to ANSAmed together with his wife Maria and said he doesn't wish to provoke them.
He called his action a "normal, simple gesture, that became heroic only because of others' rage".
Lupo had initially remained silent like the others when bodies emerged at a point between Sicily and Malta, where 283 Pakistanis, Indians, and Tamils lost their lives. He was also advised to keep quiet when, four years later, he found in his fishing net the ID card of one of the nameless victims.
It was only when he realised that since there was no proof of the shipwreck those responsible would go free that he decided to speak up.
The shipowner and captain were later sentenced to 30 years in prison. "Even Italians are a people made up of migrants," Lupo said. "What would we have done if we had died in a shipwreck?" Lupo was forced out of the local fishing industry due to the tensions over his speaking up, and he began working on tugboats, where he has also seen his fair share of migrants heading to Europe.
He said that in his work on the tugs he has saved many of the migrants but in other cases has also had to give them up to Libyan authorities.
"Those were the times of the agreement between Berlusconi and Gaddafi," he said, referring to the Italy-Libya friendship treaty ratified in 2008.
"I saw migrants forced into a container and loaded onto a truck, still closed inside," he said.
Lupo called the current agreement between the Italian government and Libya's government of national accord "shameful".
"Libyans are strong racists by nature," he said.
Lupo said it's not just traffickers who exploit the migrants' desperation to escape, but also some businesses that manage the trade in Italy, where he said the risk is that migrants "become tools for criminal activity".
However, he did praise some examples of "true integration" in Italy, such as the Calabrian town of Riace in Italy's south, where Mayor Mimmo Lucano has welcomed migrants into homes that had been abandoned by Italians who emigrated elsewhere.