Did you know that some officers of the Guardia di Finanza (a branch of the Italian military) hunted Tunisian nationals in Lampedusa wearing t-shirts saying "G8 2001, I WAS THERE"? And among the policemen there were those wearing t-shirts under their uniform with a black eagle and the word "MERCENARIES"? Some might say these are just details. I believe this is a measure of how far we’ve gone. The border is out of control. With no law and no information. Entrusted to teams of hotheaded thugs. The same torturers responsible for the mess of Genoa, for the continuous suspicious deaths while in custody of police stations (see Cucchi, Uva, Aldrovandi ...), and for the increasingly frequent beatings in the centres for identification and expulsion (CIEs). Although it must be said that during the days of the ‘re-conquering’ of Lampedusa the agents weren’t the only ones using violence. Because among those holding iron bars in their hands were also the employees of ‘Lampedusa Accoglienza’ (the Lampedusa reception team). Witnesses, however, are few. Because journalists were kept away: intimidated and even beaten. In any case, the images were provided to the editors directly by police headquarters. Explaining how censorship was exercised during those days is once again Alessio Genovese, one of the few photographers who remained on the island with the young Tunisians up until the extremely violent police charges. We asked him to come back to those events. The seriousness of what happened requires us to do so. The following is his testimony.
The only images that circulated were passed after a double verification, before and after the events. The only ones who shot and filmed everything were the policemen. A process of painstaking selection eliminated the part where you see the faces and actions of the thugs of Lampedusa.
The scenes where men wearing the "Lampedusa Accoglienza" uniform (from the cooperative that provides services within the center of Contrada Imbriacola) beat the Tunisians with clubs, iron bars and stones were not seen.
In Lampedusa after the charges of September 21, we have been seeing Tunisians with obvious signs of beatings and violence. We saw them single file while two police officers accompanied them to a plane and then to a ship. But no one has had the opportunity to ask them how they had broken their legs or arms. All brushed under the carpet, the transfers continued and so did the repatriations. The irregularities and abuse suffered will have no follow-up.
The newspaper editors were looking for and wanted only the bloodiest images, "those where the Tunisians charged on the people of Lampedusa", "the one with the guy with the lighter in his hand that tried to blow the tank up". Images that could not be found because the facts evolved differently.
But the job of a journalist should be to tell the facts, talk to people, see for himself, and stay human. That’s how we were able to meet Mehdi. A 19 year old student in his last year of high-school.
Mehdi makes his way through the crowd and approaches with a smile repeating a few times: "choose a number, choose a number". The trick is this: Pick a number and multiply by two. Add it to the result and divide it by two, at this point, subtract the number you chose at the beginning and the result is half the number you picked.
Mehdi has a brother who has been working and living for years in Legnano, northern Italy, where he lives with his family; his sister has been living in Nice for fifteen years. He dreams of going to stay with his sister and enroll in the Faculty of Mathematics. And he swears that if he is repatriated back to Tunisia, he will attempt to return to Europe another 100 times. This is his battle.
Because maybe it’s true, maybe the Tunisians who have landed in Lampedusa are fighting a battle. They have decided to confront the enemy with their bare hands, their bodies and faces uncovered. Theirs is a cultural battle. Breaking down a definition, a concept: the idea of frontier as we know it today.
And it’s not the Tunisians that the people of Lampedusa have to defend themselves from. Rome, the government and ministry, the editorial offices of newspapers and television news. They are the ones who have created a climate of war and fear against the Other. They are the ones who have created the border.
It is they who have made the island of Lampedusa "the extremity of Italy in arms", as the war memorial overlooking the harbor announces. The frontier that becomes border, militarized to the teeth. Field testing and training for another war.
The one that will come after. The one that the State will fight against us Italians, plagued by the allergy of the Arab spring. Those tired of living with no prospects for the future in a poor country. Those who go from South to North and from there, abroad. Young people who are young people up until they’re fifty, and those who live of volunteering and internships.
What would happen if let us talk to the Tunisian youngsters? What would happen if we came to understand that our stories are their stories? Why are they are afraid of this?
And aren’t they afraid of the risk of violence against Italians in Tunisia spiraling out of control? What if they too, the Tunisians, begin to hate us, attacking on sight? What are the companies, businesses and Italians living in Tunisia, hundreds of families of Sicilian origin in the district of Petit Sicile in la Goulette, what must they be saying to their neighbors, colleagues and employees in Tunisia?
(by Alessio Genovese, translated by Camilla Gamba)