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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
© 2014 Living at the Border