Every year, thousands of migrants make the long and risky journey from Africa to the shores of southern Europe. Whether for economic reasons or due to forced circumstances, hundreds of African men and women cram themselves onto small and unstable boats. For many African refugees and migrants, this is where it begins. In 2012, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported more than 13,000 people arrived in Lampedusa, an island off the coast of Italy. This perilous journey, as witnessed throughout mainstream media reports, costs hundreds of lives as a result of boats capsizing. Capturing headlines across the globe in early October of 2013, a boat carrying as many as 500 migrants caught fire and capsized causing more than 300 to die, including women and children. This was the greatest boat tragedy in Italy. For many African asylum-seekers and refugees, crossing the Mediterranean Sea can be viewed as the biggest challenge they must undertake to reach the ‘promised land.’ Though the journey is cut short for some, a new beginning emerges for others.
Nestled in the heart of Frosinone, a small quiet town located 75 kilometers south east of Rome, 11 young Somali refugees find themselves living in a hotel. Having arrived from Libya only a month prior, they are one of many Somali refugee youth who came to Italy by boat in search of a better life. They are known as ciyaalka baddha, or children of the sea.
This relocation is part of an attempt by the Italian government to deal with the influx of migrants and lack of housing space. The refugees live amongst regular guests at the hotel, but little is known about them. This is a temporary home for them, as they will be moved once space is found at various shelters.
Deeqa, a 23-year-old Somali refugee, is one of the residents. The young mother of two spent time in a Libyan prison before arriving to Italy. The group she was traveling with was apprehended near Libya two times before making the third journey to Italy.
I see boys and girls suffering here, people are thrown into jail, the pool of agony and discomfort is not worth it. The trouble and suffering that I have experienced on my way to get to Europe was not worth it.
She boards a bus to Rome with her friend. Sacadiya, a small-framed girl left behind elderly parents, a disabled brother and a two-year-old child when she travelled to Libya for work. When the revolution in Libya broke out, she boarded a boat set to sail for Europe. She has not seen her daughter for over a year.
It breaks my heart because we’ve gone through a great struggle, my country is a mess, I’ve suffered in foreign countries, all this struggle for the sake of a better life and opportunities.
Since she has just arrived, it will be a while before she receives her permit of stay. Her journey from Somalia began in 2011.
“Europe is not what I envisioned it to be. People would say it is a great place and praise Europe but the reality does not measure up to what I’ve heard,” says Sacadiya.
As they walk through the town in traditional colorful Somali clothing, eyes focus on them. Most look at the group in curiosity, others in confusion. The young refugees know it is important to stay together. They do not yet know the language.
Italy has long been a gateway into Europe. Merely a transit point, many people use it to pass through to Northern European countries. When refugees first arrive on the shores of Lampedusa, they are taken to a CARA; a detention centre for processing. This is where fingerprints and IDs are taken. The European centralized fingerprinting method (EURODAC) is meant to control the movement of refugees and migrants throughout Europe.
The Italian Refugee Council is a non-profit organization that was created in 1990 to advocate on behalf of refugees and asylum-seekers in Italy. They provide services including legal assistance, family reunification and information on integration. Valeria Carlini is the spokeswoman for the IRC.
One European legislation that all refugees and migrants are familiar with is the Dublin II Regulation. This law was implemented in 2003 after a sudden increase in the number of asylum-seekers travelling throughout Europe. While this law has not prevented refugees from moving throughout the EU, it has been responsible for the countless Dublin returnees in Italy.
These individuals attempted to reach other countries but were sent back due to fingerprints. They often stay in these countries undetected for months before being returned to Italy. The problems faced by returnees include a loss of their place in a center or shelter. Returnees may spend some jail time in the country they were apprehended. Upon return, many of them find themselves on the streets.
Many refugees spend their days sitting in parks, waiting for documents. They travel from soup kitchen to soup kitchen in search of basic daily needs. It is common to see long line-ups outside church-run soup kitchens in Rome.
A 25-year-old refugee from Somalia reflects on the little change in the lives of Somali refugees since he first arrived.
“I think it’s worse now than when I came five years ago. The ones coming in now have it much harder. Before, we would wait up to six months to get documents. But now, people are in those reception camps for a year. The process is much longer to get documents. I feel bad about it…” says Mohamed.
The group of refugees in Frosinone try to stay optimistic. As they have just arrived, the frustration has not set in for some. As the youngest in the group, 18-year-old Hassan puts it:
“It’s all luck. Just because they’ve waited a long time to receive their permits to live and work here does not necessarily mean that I will have to wait just as long. I hope to get them sooner.”
© 2014 Living at the Border