Hill of Shame

Text and Photographs by Gianni Cipriano. Interview by Habitat Project


The so-called Hill of Shame is a hill in the island of Lampedusa, half-way between Sicily and North Africa in the Mediterrannean Sea, where hundreds of migrants lived in poor conditions in improvised tents during the migration crisis in April 2011. In 2011, about 53,000 North African and Sub-Saharan migrants arrived in the so-called “Door of Europe”, stranded on the island in appalling conditions. Migrants weren’t provided with the most basic humanitarian assistance such as shelter, medical care, blankets and access to sanitary facilities, while thousands slept outdoors.


When did you arrive for the first time in Lampedusa? What was the situation at that time?

I arrived for the first time in Lampedusa in February 2011, the day approximately 2,000 migrants from Tunisia arrived by boat on the shores of the island. In less than a week, more than 4,000 arrived on the island as they were fleeing confusion after the street protests and the ouster on January 14th of their longtime autocratic president, Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali.

By April the situation in Lampedusa went out of control. There were 5,000 migrants and 5,000 locals on the island, and an accommodation centre hosting more than 2,000 people with a capacity of 850 beds. Those who didn’t fit in the overcrowded centre, filled slowly in the streets of the village, sleeping under tracks and in abandoned boats. Meanwhile others people were building their first European shelter, a carpet of improvised tents built with metal sticks, sheets, clothes and mattress in an open-air dump of plastic bags, dishes and bottles used as urinals. This is the so-called “Hill of Shame”.this kind of shelters were a temporary solution for migrants crossing the island?

Are these shelters a temporary solution for migrantants crossing the island?

It was a temporary solution for those migrants who arrived in Lampedusa in March 2011 and that were hold for weeks on the island waiting to be transferred to the accommodation centers across Italy. Government officials claimed that the emergency was caused by logistical problems. Personally, I think that the emergency has been created for political reasons. The emergency lasted for approximately 2 weeks until Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister at the time, visited the island. He promised to buy a villa for himself, in order to make Lampedusa a small Portofino and he wanted to nominate the island for the Nobel Peace Prize. Less than 72 hours later the Italian Army Engineers dismantled the tents of the Hill of Shame, while thousands of migrants were transferred to other accommodation centers in Italy.

Do these shelters host a single person or people try to share them?

Each tent accommodated between 3 and 7 people. Most of the time those who had built the tent together were those would eventually sleep in it.

We know that you are working on migration. Can you tell us more about your upcoming work? Will you focus again on shelters and housing solutions?

I’m interested in understanding what happens to migrants and asylum seekers after they land for the first time in Europe through Italy and Malta. Since 2011 the immigration flow has increased as the result of the Arab Spring turmoils. The war in Syria and the instability in Libya contributed to increase the numbers of those looking for a future in Europe. I am currently working on the consequences of these arrivals. Only in 2014, more than 160,000 had arrived in Italy. I recently started working on squatted and self-managed buildings where communities of migrants currently live.