As soon as you enter Libya you realize at once that everything is just money, even the lives of Africans. If you have enough money to bribe the police they let you go through, otherwise they take you into a storehouse or a garage and beat you up. If you have someone who can send you money you have to hang on just long enough to receive the money transfer, but if there’s nobody who can help you, well, you just have to hope that they will get tired of torturing you before you die, and then at times they let you go.
Other times they transfer you to the prison at Zlitan and in that case perhaps it would be better to die. Everyone knows Zlitan in Libya, Zlitan means fear. Anybody who rebels or tries to get away is savagely punished. Sometimes they hang you up head down and beat you with rods, as if you were a sack, or you are strapped to a table and they whip the soles of your feet. At first it is only painful, but then if they go on too long you stop being human, your eyes glaze over and you forget that you are alive.
When I left Libya I didn’t shed a single tear. There were fifteen of us on that boat, there was a pregnant woman and a child. Then the sea became black, the boat overturned and everything we knew was of no use to us. The sea doesn’t understand things of the land, your clothes and shoes become heavy and pull you down. Only eight of us got to Lampedusa, and all naked. I never knew what the woman was called, and I never will.
I now live in Turin in the occupied ex-Ministry of the Interior houses. Italy is not like Libya, although even here the lives of Africans are not worth much.
In Italy they take your fingerprints and they give you a number. They call you a refugee, they give you a piece of paper and shut you up in a reception centre. Then the centre closes and you are out on the street – the project is finished – and you discover that “international protection” is just two words put together.
Buba is 30 and comes from Gambia. In March, 2013, he took part in Turin together with a hundred refugees like him in occupying the ex-MOI (ex-General Fruit and Vegetable Market) centre where he lives. He is at the moment going to secondary school and hopes to become an electrician.
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. [twitter_share]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.[/twitter_share]
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.
I migrated in October 2013. On the sea you die like rats, like under the bombs. Even if it is your sea, we’re the ones who drank it, with our lungs. The first Europe I saw from Africa was Lampedusa. The bad days are over now: no more false welcomes, the running away, the scorn, the hunger. My spirit is full of a boat smashed by the waves, and with my spirits so low I have continued on my journey. I left the island, they let me get away, before they took my fingerprints which would have condemned me to remain for ever in Italy. Fingerprints are like handcuffs. You don’t know it, but you are in a cell. I’m a person who if he bows his back, it is only to pick fruit. For the rest, I am like all of us in my nation: even under the bombs we keep our backs straight. I caught a train from Sicily for Milan. From Milan I kept heading further north. It was Europe I wanted, and now I have it. I arrived with another hundred in Norway. Here the world doesn’t need to wait for tomorrow to have a mixed skin. Here the years to come are no longer a hypothesis for me. I have a right to political asylum here. I am about to become a free man. This photograph was taken and sent by a migrant who arrived at Lampedusa in October, 2013, and who is now in Scandinavia.