I didn’t know that giving my fingerprints would have been my sentence

Dal Mali Dal Mali
sws_kaou

My name is Kaou and I come from Mali. I arrived at Lampedusa from Tripoli in 2011 because I had no other choice. When war broke out I wanted to head for Algeria and return to my country, but Tripoli was under siege and you could neither get out nor in. One day a friend told me that he had decided to go across the sea to Italy and I went with him. I arrived at Lampedusa in May and they put me into the camp, they didn’t treat me badly, but there were a lot of us in there, too many. The days went by and more and more new refugees arrived and no one told you what was happening or how long we were going to remain there. I knew that we had rights in Europe, and that they could issue us with a document. What I didn’t know while they were taking my fingerprints was that I would never be able to leave Italy, that they would move me from one camp to another, and that in the end I would find myself in the street.

The reception centres are always hidden, a long way away from people. I wanted to get to know Italians and their way of life, but it seems as though we were supposed to have a life apart from anyone else. Before there were many things I didn’t know, and I think that many Italians still don’t know them. When I was in the Settimo Torinese camp, they gave the Red Cross 42 euro a day for every refugee and when the cold weather came we couldn’t even have a jacket. To get mine I had to work for a week. My boss was a Moroccan, I went out in the morning with a trolley and collected plastic from the rubbish skips, from 5 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon. For a week of work he paid you 40 to 50 euro and with that money I bought myself a jacket at the market at Porta Palazzo. The end of the North Africa emergency wasn’t the end of our problems, it was only the end of the money. “The camp is shutting down, you are all out in a week”. It was February and it was still cold, so I began to sleep in stations and dormitories, then I decided to escape to France to find a job and somewhere permanent to sleep. I have documents in Italy, I have international protection, instead in France I was a sans papiers. I worked as a painter, without paying taxes, for a few month, then I had to come back. “Your fingerprints are in Italy”, they tell you and take you back to Ventimiglia. Anyway in Libya it’s very different. There foreigners have no rights, nor papers. You can find work, the police pretend they don’t see you; but if a Libyan does something to you, it’s you that is arrested because being foreigners is the greatest crime. It Italy they say that we are all equal and we have many rights, but most of the time they are not respected, so sometimes it’s the same.

Kaou is 25 and comes from Mali. He came to Lampedusa in May 2011 and can’t return to his country because while he was in Italy Mali was torn by a bloody civil war. He lives at the moment in Turin with no fixed abode.

Text by Carlo Maddalena / Fabrica