By Lorenzo Tondo Guardian News & Media
Prosecutors in Sicily have launched an arson investigation into a fire on Friday night on the island of Lampedusa that destroyed the “migrant boats graveyard”, a key symbol of the migration crisis.
Hundreds of dilapidated boats left behind over the years by migrants arriving in Italy from north Africa went up in flames, causing panic for several hours among islanders in what investigators believe was a politically-motivated attack.
The fire, which destroyed hundreds of boats abandoned near the port, is the second act of vandalism of pro-migrant symbols on Lampedusa in a week.
On June 3, the Gateway to Europe (Porta d’Europa) monument, designed by artist Mimmo Paladino in 2008 as a memorial to migrants who died making the crossing, was wrapped by vandals in plastic bags.
“We shall enlist all possible resources to shed light on these episodes of intolerance that have placed the hospitable people of Lampedusa in an unflattering light,” said Salvatore Vella, the prosecutor in Agrigento who is investigating the attacks.
He expressed concerns about the effect on tourism, a major part of the island’s economy. “Lampedusa must not become the site of urban guerrilla war.”
At the height of the migrant crisis in 2015, more than 21,000 asylum-seekers landed in Lampedusa, the southernmost point of Italy.
Arrivals have since fallen by more than 80% but hundreds of migrants still find their way to the island, with 600 disembarking last week.
In recent years, some Lampedusa residents have accused Italy’s leaders of abandoning the island and placing the management of the migration crisis on their shoulders.
“There’s a precise strategy to create a climate of tension and intolerance towards a very trying situation for our island,” said Totٍ Martello, the mayor of Lampedusa, referring to the island’s economy and the effect of the pandemic on tourism.
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