Italy Mediterranean shipwreck
Migrants disembark from a Coast Guard boat as they arrive in the Sicilian harbour of Palermo Reuters

Hundreds of refugees have been rescued 50 miles off Libyan coasts and are being taken to immigration centres in the Sicilian towns of Pozzallo and Augusta.

As recent reports of migrants who died at sea while trying to reach Italian coasts highlighted, once again, the plight of asylum seekers who lose their lives while they flee their countries, IBTimes UK spoke with locals of Pozzallo on how they feel about the presence of migrants who reach the Sicilian town almost on a daily basis.

Enrico Caruso, owner and director of Mare Nostrum hotel, said although some people protested in the past as migrants left the centre "in big groups" to walk through the streets of Pozzallo, locals feel safe.

He said: "Even if migrants sometimes are left alone around the town, nothing has ever happened. I think there is a widespread ignorance as well as misconceptions - especially among people who live in northern Italy - when it comes to migrants and how the immigration situation is handled by authorities."

Caruso explained that following the surge of immigration in Sicily, there has been a decrease in terms of tourism.

But he said: "However, this is not due to violence as there are no violent migrants. People chose not to come because of their misconceptions. Maybe I am using hard words, but I need to clarify that here there are no 'black men with clubs' who go around threatening people.

"Tourists from other countries - such as the UK, US, Canada and Russia, who are used to live in multicultural cities - keep coming to Pozzallo. People who have cancelled their trips are mainly Italians from outside Sicily."

Africa Italy Migrants
Migrants from Sub-Saharian areas receive bottles of water on a rescue boat of Italy's Navy ship San Giorgio after being rescued in open international waters in the Mediterranean Sea between the Italian and the Libyan coasts Reuters

'I am that kind of mayor who wants migrants to arrive safe'

Luigi Ammatuna, Mayor of Pozzallo, believes the refugee centre functions properly and citizens do not complain about migrants coming to the coastal city, especially because they only find out about new arrivals through media.

"Once migrants reach Pozzallo, they go directly to the centre where they are assisted, provided with food and clothes and then they are sent to other centres. Pozzallo is a very safe town and it is regarded as a very welcoming place."

When asked to comment regarding recent reports of migrant deaths, the mayor said: "Unfortunately, we had a very bad experience a few years ago, when we received more than 40 dead migrants who had died while they were still on the boat. I will never forget it.

"I was against the end of the Mare Nostrum operation in Italy as I feared that it could cause more deaths. I have always stated that I want to be that kind of mayor who welcomes migrants while they are alive. I do not want to receive dead bodies, I want migrants to arrive safe."

libya migrants
Members of Libya's coast guard recover the body of a migrant who drowned off Tripoli's coast Reuters

'We are not against migrants, but we want things to be run properly'

The manager of a local hotel, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said some incidents involving migrants misbehaving towards the locals occurred only when the phenomenon of immigration started a few years ago.

"Last year tourism dropped due to fears that migrants were going around and were violent. I kept telling people who booked rooms at the hotel that the situation is not how it is sometimes portrayed by the media, but they did not believe me because they thought I was saying that simply to encourage tourists to come to my business," she said.

"People sometimes receive incorrect information and this leads to prejudice and fear. I think authorities should handle immigration in a better way.

"Sometimes people think that Italians do not want migrant but this is not the case, we only want things to be handled properly. I think a good idea would be to create a centre in northern Africa - maybe in Tunisia or Egypt - where migrants can go to.

"We can send our EU troops to help with the situation so that migrants are assisted from the other side and they avoid dying at sea. I think it's beneficial for human traffickers to send migrants to Europe because they make money. We should stop this."

'We blame the media for scaremongering'

Emiliano Cicera, from the Mermina Antonio restaurant, also believes the media is to blame for scaremongering and creating fear against migrants.

Cicera said: "Italians are sometimes victims of the media. We don't even see migrants here because once they reach Pozzallo, they are sent to other centres. This is a safe place and migrants who live here are not dangerous at all. Media has also negatively impacted tourism, especially last year."

However, Antonio Di Raimondo - director at the Corriere di Ragusa newspaper - denied the media fuels fears of immigration among Italian citizens.

"People who blame the media are trying to feather their own nest - sometimes people accuses us of being too 'sensationalistic', but I don't agree with that. We report according to data and facts and therefore we do not exaggerate anything," he said.

"Compared to other provinces, Siracusa undoubtedly hosts more migrants that it can and it should. Thus, we report about an excessive presence, but this does not mean that we do not want migrants. I want to clarify that the situation has always been under control and migrants behave very well."

migrants Lampedusa
Somali couple Khadar, 18, and Shaban, 16, take a walk in Lampedusa with their four-month-baby Aini Alberto Pizzoli/AFP