Cover 4

Life after Documents

Most refugees who request asylum from Italy receive it.
Aladgie is one of them. A 24-year-old refugee from Mali, his journey began in Libya where he spent two years working. When the Libyan war broke out, he followed other Africans in fear of persecution and made his way to Europe. After having waited a little over a year for his permit of stay, he was granted refugee status.

However, he could not gain employment and found himself once again sleeping at a centre for asylum-seekers. He does not have permission to be at the centre, but was able to sleep there each night with the help of some friends. His story highlights the realities many migrants and refugees face once they receive their documents.

We came here, they give us document, thank God that they gave us documents. But after that, you don’t get work, no better place to live, it’s a problem.

Aladgie waits for his friends near downtown Rome

Click Here to listen to Aladgie’s Europe.

Like many, Aladgie spends most of his days, sitting in areas around Termini train station. Due to the high tourist concentration in this part of downtown and the transient setting of the train station, migrants who hang around the area are chased away by police.

The Integration Problem

Some of the refugees said they were better off not getting their documents because now they must find their own means of shelter and food. Because refugees and migrants are the last to be considered for any kind of work, they end up on the streets. With little social networks, they are expected to support themselves. While refugees are supported on paper by policies, in reality very little support is offered.

There are not only negative stories…we also have very lucky stories, but a system cannot be based on stories. A system has to be done by rights and possibilities for everybody.

– Carlini, IRC
Migrants and refugees carry their documents regularly as they are stopped by police and asked to show their permit of stay.

Despite having all of his documents, this Ghanian migrant cannot find work.

In recent years, Italy has made international media headlines for its treatment of refugees and migrants. There was an increase in xenophobic attacks throughout the country as documented by human rights agencies. Migrants become scapegoats for current economic crises in the region. Politicians and media outlets often add to sensationalist views of foreigners. Refugees who already sleep on the street are especially vulnerable for these types of attacks.

Carlini acknowledged that while legislation on refugees have improved considerably in the country since 1990, the reality for many asylum-seekers have not changed. The gaps between policies and their practical implications are evident in, for example, the length of time in the asylum process. According to Italian law, the process should only take 35 days. This is unrealistic considering the process can take anywhere between six months to two years. This is due to lack of resources and the backlog of asylum applications at the Questera. While they wait for their documents, many refugees find themselves in a limbo with very little access to integration services and employment.

Barikama Means Resistance

Housed in an abandoned former textile factor, Barikama Yogurt is a glimpse into what happens when people are forced to create their own opportunities. This micro-income project produces and sells organic yogurt in the Rome vicinity.

In a brightly lit room with graffiti everywhere, one wall reads, No One is Illegal. Five young men from Mali, Senegal and Ivory Coast clad in aprons work as west African music blares in the background. There is a welcoming feeling, as they share laughs and dance. As they make yogurt, they talk about their experiences and how they got to this point.

Ex-Snia is a social hub for non-governmental organizations.

Ex-Snia is a social hub for non-governmental organizations.

The word Rosarno comes up in each of their interviews and the smiles fade. What happened in Rosarno, Italy is a deeply traumatizing event for these individuals. One that cuts deeper each time it is recalled. Africans were illegally employed as farm labourers in the town. Making less than 20 euros a day, they slept in barns in unsanitary conditions.

In 2010, there was a revolt in the farming fields of Rosarno. In addition to the already present exploitation, African men were harassed in the street by the locals. The tipping point of the event was when three African men were shot on their way home. This led to a mass revolt as the migrants stopped working and took to the street. Clashes between the locals and migrants led to Italian authorities providing work visas and train tickets for the migrants to leave town. Some left for Rome, others for Napoli.

Sulieman, originally from Mali, is the founder of Barikama Yogurt. After meeting people from Ex-Snia, which is a social hub for non-governmental organizations, Sulieman created this project. The name Barikama is fitting for this initiative as it means ‘resistance’ in his native language of Bambara.

This project would change the lives of these African men. He feels a sense of brotherhood with the others. His dream is to expand this project and employ 100 refugees as a way to help his fellow Africans. Through this project the men involved learned the Italian language, have become familiar with Rome due to delivering the yogurt to markets and made connections to more job opportunities.


Sidiki was able to find employment through the project.

© 2014 Living at the Border