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.
What do migrants wish for 2014? Freedom, a bike, a warm house and a good job, internet to talk with their families. Get married. These are all very simple wishes, the same wishes that we have as well. They have been collected by Fabrica and are presented in this video. These wishes also decorate a Christmas tree installed in Venice by Fabrica.
Just talking about it makes me feel bad, really bad.
These things can’t leave you indifferent, and you feel bad about it because you have the possibility of giving them somewhere to sleep, but the institutions won’t allow you to.
I’m a citizen of Lampedusa, my name is Lillo Maggiore, my job is … I’m an administrative assistant at the Luigi Pirandello school in Lampedusa. I have a family, made up of me obviously, my wife and two daughters. And I lived through everything, I could say, in 2011. 2011 which I could say, I repeat, changed me and my family, changed our lives: my life because I realised for the first time the reality of poverty, the lack of freedom, living terrible hardships, because, I repeat, these people were living outside, out in the open, in the cold, and from that moment I decided to do something to help them.
I worked in the morning, in the afternoons, and in the evening, above all at night, I dedicated my time to them. I dedicated myself to them, in what sense? Handing out blankets, bringing them hot drinks, getting them thick jackets, shoes … a bit of everything that could help them.
There’s just one thing that I get mad about, the institutions that abstain from… let me say it, deny me the right to do a good deed. I applied for provisional custody of a child, I applied to the social services of the Lampedusa municipality, about a month ago. But nothing, until today, nothing.
Above all, when the weather is bad, and you see them going along the roads, they haven’t got a coat, sometimes not even a pair of shoes, but just a pair of slippers, or they haven’t got a telephone card to let their parents know that they are all right… and so what are you supposed to do? You imagine yourself in their place, you imagine, at least I’m the kind of person that imagines himself in their place immediately and you try to do something, but I can’t do what I would like to do, that is, I am able to help them a bit, but not as much as would be necessary… and this is frustrating, it makes you suffer, because if you start something you want to carry it through, not leave it half done. But they won’t let you … the children, especially the children who have to stay in the CIE together with the adults, it’s not right: children should stay with children, or in a family, which will act as a … to feel that family warmth: these kids do nothing but sleep outside.. Now what I say is this: if all the Lampedusan community does nothing but ask to receive them, to welcome them in their homes, why are we being denied this right to do this good deed?
This testimony was taken down by Marco Pavan/Fabrica.
My name is Enzo, I’m a fisherman and I live on Lampedusa. What I do I find natural because… I’ve seen them many times at sea. Before seeing them on land, I see them at sea, I’ve seen what state they arrive in. I help these people and I don’t think twice about it, because we don’t look at the colour of their skin, because for a fisherman anyone at sea that is in trouble has to be helped. A fisherman never leaves anyone at sea – that’s a rule. It was 2011 when things started getting out of control and we began to give a hand. And if I see a family around with children I take them home with me. I don’t leave them on the pavement. That’s how it is. With my wife Grazia, thank God, she more than me, we have begun to attend the parish, because I’m a believer, and if I believe in God and I’m a Christian, it’s only natural to do what we are doing, because charity is the basis of everything. Seeing these people around, it’s not easy to sleep peacefully at home, knowing what is going on outside. But not because you’re frightened, but because you know that there are people in the road, homeless, you know that it’s raining and they are there outside, you know they are hungry and have no food. And so we do what we can do, and we offer what we can. And I must say that they give us much more than what we give them. The humbleness of these people… I don’t know how to say it… they have lost everything… even their dignity as human beings… because they have had to put up with everything. Then they manage to get here and they lock them up… in that concentration camp… because that’s exactly what it is. It’s no good them saying the “Centre…” – what welcome? 280 places, and there are, I don’t know how many, a thousand of them, nine hundred, a thousand two hundred… if you’ve got 280 places, 280 is where you have to stop, you leave them out, because they are out anyway, they get out from behind. When someone embraces you – they call me “papà” you know, and my wife “mamma”; “thank you, papà”, and to my wife “thank you, mamma” – your home fills with the grace of God. Because when you do a good deed you feel good. I don’t know, come on… let’s say by the grace of God, but it’s like that. We’ll definitely go on doing this. We’ve got our problems too, we have our lives, work, we try to separate the two things. But that doesn’t mean we retreat in front of an emergency or the needs of a brother. Always within our possibilities, but we do as much as we can. What makes us sad is when we have tragedies like what happened a month ago: everyone arrives, ministers come, and then in the end, after a week, a week and a half, things go back perhaps to worse than before. Our problems on Lampedusa are increasing and nobody cares, because we do have problems on the island, because living on an island is a problem in itself: transport, hospital, schools, we’ve got nothing. But we don’t complain that much, because seeing the state in which these people arrive, we consider ourselves quite lucky. The immobility of public institutions is the problem. They go on saying “provisions for Lampedusa…”, but nothing ever happens, and what we have to do, seeing what is happening, we do, without getting too worked up about it. Every now and then a little quarrel breaks out – it’s difficult to stop a little anger overflowing, isn’t it? But we are going on doing it, and we’ll go on doing it, certainly because it’s not going to stop here.
Psss! What are you doing? Are you going away? It’s hard, you know, when they go off, but that’s the way it is. That’s the way it is.
The testimony of fisherman Enzo Riso was taken down by Marco Pavan / Fabrica.
Concetta manages Bar Royal in Lampedusa, that was opened about 50 years ago, and talks about the living together of Lampedusans and migrants.
In this touching testimony fisherman Enzo Riso talks about his fear of killing migrants in the sea.
Anthony was born in Eritrea. When he was 10 his father died and his mother, who was sick, decided to send him to stay with an uncle who lived in Sudan, to save him from being called up for military service. “My father was a soldier, that’s how he died, in combat. My mum wanted to save my life, stop me from ending up the same way.”
Anthony worked for three years in his uncle’s bar, often for gruelling long hours and without ever going to school: “My uncle sent his children to school, but not me.”
The treatment he received from his uncle became even more harsh when Anthony’s mother, who had never recovered from her sickness, died. The boy could see his dreams vanishing day by day. He would have liked to study, have the chance of building a future, so, as soon as he was 14, he decided to run away in search of a place where he could study and grow up. “
Anthony came to Europe when he was little more than a child. He crossed it all alone, from the Mediterranean coasts as far as the United Kingdom. There he stopped and presented a request for political asylum and tried to attend a school.
He hadn’t imagined that it would be so hard to study in Great Britain as well: “A teacher told me that as soon as I had obtained the status of refugee I would be able to attend a school”.
Anthony waited for five interminable years. When the reply came he found that his request had been turned down and that he was no longer eligible for any form of assistance. “Four or five of them took me,” the boy remembers, “and threw me out of the house, with all my belongings.”
“I’m leading a precarious sort of life. At times I have a bed to sleep on, other times I sleep in the street; sometimes I find something to eat and other times I don’t, and often there’s nowhere to have a shower.”
The Refugee Action association, who found out about him and have made his story known, are trying to help Anthony find a fixed place to stay and are helping him to re-present his request for political asylum.
It was December when in the Rome Ponte Galeria CIE protest suddenly turned to silence. A silence of black and green threads being pulled out of the issued blankets and thrust into flesh. A mute cry stopping any attempt to turn words into chat, forcing you at least to look, to ask yourself why.
In the CIE that day there was also Lassad, a Tunisian citizen who has lived in Italy for 22 years, who refused to turn his eyes away and who has tried to respond and tell what happened. Lassad’s life hasn’t been simple. He had been detained before Ponte Galeria, but if they had told him then that there was a place like this in Italy he wouldn’t have believed them. Lassad has decided to fight to have the Ponte Galeria CIE monitored, and was present on 28 March at the Lazio regional council offices to support a specific motion.
«I’ve been living in Italy for 22 years. Most of my life I’ve lived here. Lots of things have happened to me and I’ve done many things wrong, but I paid for everything. One day I was going back home with the shopping when I was stopped by the police: they asked me for my papers and then took me straight to Ponte Galeria, to that place you call a CIE. I woke up in the morning, it was cold, it was December and I found myself with thirteen men who had their lips sewn up in protest. Something like that leaves a mark, you don’t shake it off very easily. You realise that you are in a kind of concentration camp, a camp that exists because every life has a price. What do they give those who are inside? I think it’s 41 euros. Our lives are worth 41 euros. What is 41 euros, is it its value on the Stock Exchange, the size of a pair of shoes, calculated according to our weight, the space we occupy? I don’t know. Tell me why I can’t find the words to understand it. A price for our suffering. You’ve been inside, you saw first hand the product that is given a price. As for me, nothing surprises me, I feel as though I’m living in the Forties after hearing what they tell me and after what I’ve read. I can feel an icy wind from the right blowing strong and from all directions”.
“I don’t know what to say. The world is beautiful outside, as long as you don’t trample over the rights of the people next to you. I feel like a kind of fish out of water. I haven’t got a country any longer, I’m neither here nor there, where is my home in your opinion? And how can I forget those scenes, those screams… I was open-mouthed. These things I knew happened 70 years ago. And I think of History. It’s supposed to go down in books and be remembered, you have to give a knock and show the world you are there. Today I was at the Underground station of Rebibbia, near the prison, there were fine posters of people going over a wall and the words “All free”. Sure, I agree. And yet I hear so much rubbish being said, I hear people say that slavery has been abolished: I think great people like Abraham Lincoln would turn in their graves. How many centuries more do we have to wait before we don’t have to put a price on a human life? God creates a person and that person is bought and sold, is quoted on the market. Who could have imagined that we would end up like this?”
“It’s my lucky day today. I’m sitting in the chair of the President of the Region, I’ve met a lot of good people, what you are doing gives a sense to my life and yours. Otherwise we are all useless, we end up in a mean, miserable world. It’s thanks to people like you that I manage to sleep at night. You people are replacing Fanon. Do you know what he used to say? He said that in the world there are those who are for and those who are against, and the main cause is called racism. Maybe these are not fascist times yet but we have to be careful. We have to realise that diversity is a resource and we must be able to take advantage of it and listen, not brand it. Distrust is the mother of all the mistakes in the world. Sorry if I’m saying everything all confused, but this way I can say everything that I have inside me. I have escaped so many times in order to live, Ponte Galeria, Trapani, Regina Coeli and then Trapani again, I walked along a railway track for 80 miles in order to get as far away as possible from here. Then they caught me in Rome and that’s when I went off my head”.
“The time would never pass and I had to keep my head busy and so I began to count. The cage we were in had 206 bars, if you walked round the cage the lights made you go crazy, at night you couldn’t make out any colours, everything looked grey. And I went on counting: the length of the cage is 18 steps and a half, the corridor is 128 steps. Isn’t that enough for you? At night I hoped that they would turn off the lights so that I could see the stars, I can read them, I tried to make out The Great Bear and Orsa Minor instead of looking at the surveillance cameras that were everywhere. They tell me that a CIE is not a prison and they called us guests. But I was just a bloody number that they used to call me with every day. Is that what guests are? Why didn’t they just tattoo the number on me instead of talking about values that exist only on paper and that have nothing to do with us. I couldn’t believe it – there I was calmly walking along the street and I find myself in an open-air madhouse”.
“I also owe a lot to journalists, and some of them are here present. I heard that in 2011 the Minister of the Interior had issued a circular to stop you from entering: how come? Didn’t they want you to see what I had lived through? What all the others have lived through? Usually if a civil servant makes such a big mistake you go and check if he has made any other mistakes. Did that happen with this Minister? I don’t think so, because otherwise you could have adjusted the laws, changed them, filled them with values. But we are only objects, goods for business, and in between there is the economy which in my opinion is corrupt. It seems as if in Italy too many people are happy just to leave things as they are, but we are still in time to stop things getting worse, we can prevent further tragedies. Find a solution, you find it, let’s find it together, it’s not my fault that I am a Tunisian and that I was born on the wrong side of the Mediterranean.
It’s obvious that CIEs, these detention centres, don’t work, the doctor who spoke before me was right (Alberto Barbieri, of Medu ed.), he spoke of injustice and waste of money, of an institution that is useless. If others don’t understand that or don’t accept it, that’s not right. We’ll just go on producing more suffering for everybody, for those who are inside, for the relatives of those who are inside – many have wives and children in Italy – for all those who are afraid of being caught and locked up without having done anything wrong.”
“Life for people like me is a continuous Russian roulette that we can’t escape from. Let us lead a normal life, work, let us give you a hand to make this country grow. One day you’ll thank us. But today, let me say this as a last thing: you’ve given me hope. If you keep the Centre continually monitored you’ll be able to help lots of people inside Ponte Galeria and you’ll discover many things that are not right. You’ll discover for example, and it might seem unimportant but inside there is no psychiatrist, while people are going crazy. There’s one in a prison, at times also in army barracks, but why isn’t there one in a place where so many people are so distressed?”
Today Lassad has left the Ponte Galeria CIE thanks to a suspension and he hopes to go back to being a free man. His precious testimony in favour of the motion presented by the regional councillor Marta Bonafoni has been published by the Corriere delle migrazioni.
Ahmed, 31 years of age, decided to leave his country, Somalia, because of the violent clashes caused by the Al Shabab militia in the region of Medina. On leaving, Ahmed was just searching for a safe place to live in; he could never have imagined that he was about to go on a journey of 5,000 kilometres and lasting 16 months, nor that he would be risking his life crossing the desert and the sea.
“There were many reasons why I left my country, the ethnic violence, because it wasn’t safe. The nearest place was Kenya, so there I went.
I lived in Nairobi for two months, but without any papers I couldn’t do anything to survive and I was worried that the Kenyan police would arrest me. So I decided to move down towards the border with Uganda and from there towards Kampala, where I stayed for a month, but life was very hard there too and I didn’t know anyone who could help me. One day someone told me to head for Libya because it was easy to get across to Europe from there and I thought it was a good idea.”
It’s already three months since Ahmed left. Getting to Libya from Kampala means having to get to South Sudan and cross it, enter Sudan by going up the Nile on a boat and going on as far as Khartoum. Then, finding a way of crossing the Sahara, which almost always means getting involved with human traffickers. The journey from Khartoum cost 360 dollars. When for Ahmed is time to leave, the group was made up of 80 people, all piled up in 12 big jeeps. The journey in the desert lasted three days and three nights, but didn’t lead to Libya. It stopped in the middle of the desert where a rich-looking man bought the whole group and fixed a new price for their freedom: pay 800 dollars, or be left to die in the Sahara, one day at a time, of heat and thirst.
“I fell ill – says Ahmed – I could feel myself close to death. There were about 200 of us at the beginning, five of us died right there. Thank God a fellow national gave me 200 dollars to make up the sum I needed. We left from there and headed towards Libya but just before reaching Kufra we ran into a group of Libya soldiers who arrested the traffickers in charge of us and left us there in the desert with no water, no food and no shade. They came to pick us up 24 hours later, loaded us up on a truck and took us to Kufra, into prison. There I remained for 4 months, and they beat us up every other day.”
Taking advantage of a moment when the guards weren’t looking, Ahmed and three other detainees managed to escape and hid in the ‘African’ part of the town. Here he found help and managed to contact his family and get them to send him 500 dollars, in order to reach Bengazi and then Tripoli.
“The first time the police stopped me at Tripoli to check my papers I made the mistake of answering in English instead of Arabic. They beat me with their truncheons and their gun-butts, took my money and told me to get the hell out of it. The second time I was thrown into a cell, where I stayed for two months; two months after my release I decided to get a boat for Europe, Libya was just hell, I didn’t want to live there. The others paid the sea traffickers with 400 and 500 dollars for the crossing, but I didn’t have any money. So I made up the story that I knew how to navigate, that I knew how to use a nautical compass and they believed me. Actually I knew no such thing, but I had read something about the GPS system on the Internet.”
The boat that left Tripoli, destination Malta, carried 55 people. Ahmed was handed a satellite navigator and given the direction to follow, but the weather conditions were bad. Soon the boat began to fill up with water and the crew were panic-stricken. They fought against the bad weather for 10 hours, drifting helplessly with the wind, trying to bale out the water as best as they could, hoping for a ship that would rescue them.
“The sea had taken us to within a few miles of Tripoli, towards the coast of Tunisia. The Tunisian patrol that intercepted our boat wanted to know if we were heading for Italy, then they beat us and took us to a detention centre where we remained for three weeks. There were also pregnant women in our group. Some of the guards were sorry for them so they let us go but they told us that if they saw us out at sea they would kill us. I returned to Tripoli and after a month I found another trafficker who had a boat, an inflatable dinghy actually, and we had just biscuits and a little water, which finished after two days at sea. The last day I drank seawater because I was so thirsty, but luckily after 3 days and 3 nights we arrived at Malta, safe at last.”
Today Ahmed lives in Malta, where he has been granted refugee status and where he has a part-time job as an interpreter and translator. His dream, he told them at UNHCR, is to emigrate to the United States and re-start a new life there.