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From a refugee health centre to Brussels: Pietro Bartolo now has two constituencies

BMJ 2019; 366 doi: (Published 04 September 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l5306
  1. Marta Paterlini, freelance journalist, Stockholm, Sweden
  1. martapaterlini{at}

For 30 years the Italian doctor Pietro Bartolo has been caring for migrants arriving on Lampedusa, where he grew up in a fishing family. The 22 km2 island, an exclusive Italian tourist destination, is closer to the Libyan and Tunisian coasts than to Sicily and has been at the centre of the migrant tragedy in the Mediterranean. In May this year, Bartolo was elected to the European parliament. Marta Paterlini asks him about his life

Why did you decide to move from frontline care to the offices of the European parliament?

Simply, because I want to change the sensibility of Europe towards the migration phenomenon. I nurtured the idea after having spent years talking about the drama experienced by those people through films, books, and lectures and opposing the anti-migrant rhetoric. It was not enough.

I want to be sure that people stop seeing migration as a problem. Migration is a phenomenon that occurs among animals too. We all migrate to where we are better off.

I now spend four days a week in Brussels, but every weekend I travel back to Lampedusa. There, I go back to my usual routine of providing care to people on the island. I miss my island very much, but from September I will stay in Brussels on a more permanent basis.

What does it mean being a doctor to migrants in Lampedusa?

You will never hear me talk about migrants but about human beings. From 1988, I was the doctor responsible for everybody on Lampedusa’s soil. In 1991, the first three people emerged from the sea on a small vessel. Since then, we have witnessed a continuous …

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