Lampedusa, the gateway to Europe, is always open. It has never put up walls or barriers. It has always welcomed and looked after those seeking help. The extraordinary people of Lampedusa have never protested or asked for anything in return, nor will they; to them, creating a welcoming atmosphere is a duty and a responsibility. Lampedusa regards those who arrive from the other side of the Mediterranean as human beings — as brothers, not numbers.
Pietro Bartolo was born in Lampedusa in 1956 to a fishermen’s family. In 1987, he earned his medical degree with a specialization in gynecology and obstetrics. After briefly working in Catania and Syracuse, he returned to Lampedusa with his wife and daughter and took a position in Italy’s national healthcare system. In 1991, as African migrants to Europe began arriving in Lampedusa in record numbers, he started working as medical volunteer, treating those who had crossed the Mediterranean in search of a better life. He saved lives, but he also discovered the unpleasant circumstances in which the migrants found themselves. In 2015, the director Gianfranco Rosi asked to film some of his work for a documentary. Bartolo agreed in the hope of urging those still indifferent to the plight of Lampedusa’s migrants to take concrete action. The resulting film, Fire at Sea, went on to win the Golden Bear at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival and was among the Oscar contenders for Best Documentary Feature in 2016.