Young Peace Journalists: Refugees’ journeys include many perils

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The following interview was done by Lucia Mora, a member of the Young Peace Journalists. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees. 

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An introduction

First, I’m going to explain briefly what happened in the last months.

Soon after my first experience in Brussels with Pax Christi International, Tabitha Redepenning, the youth coordinator, wrote me about a wonderful initiative: “Young Peace Journalists”.

A number of young people have been called from all over the world to learn about immigration and refugees. In fact, over the past few months, we talk to each other in real time through online video conferences. It has surely helped me to practice my English, but even more I have had the chance to learn about other countries and their social situation, my country (Italy), included. We also listened to a guest speaker who told us more about the Middle East.

In every session, I feel excited, cosmopolitan.

I offer my heartfelt thanks to Tabitha, both for thinking of me for this project and for her patience, a constant during all our meetings. Special thanks to Luisa, as she made my interview possible, and for her kindness and availability; also thanks to Don Renato (Pax Christi Italy’s Coordinator) for supporting me.

Bah Thierno Gassimou and Abdou N’dom

I met two guys, Bah Thierno Gassimou and Abdou N’dom. Gassimou was born in Guinea, he’s 18 years old and he’s been in Italy since February, 2016. He left Guinea when he was 15 years old, alone. He’s been in Ivory Coast, went through Burkina Faso, Niger, and Libya, and then he finally reached Italy by a rubber boat. It was a long and mostly hard journey, considering not only his age but also that he had to bear two nights in the desert between Niger and Libya because the pick-up truck broke down.

Abdou was born in Senegal, is 20 years old and arrived in Italy one year and two months ago. Like Gassimou, he faced an extensive journey: from Senegal to Mali, from Mali to Burkina Faso, then Niger, Libya and Italy.

In Italy, it is possible to apply for a residency permit only two times at the commission after the first answer.

Abdou first received a negative answer, so he made a first appeal and he’s now waiting for the result of it. Gassimou has been waiting for the first answer for seven months.

Even if the obstacles found in the desert were terrible (heat, long distances without presence of life, lack of food which caused many deaths), both guys think that nothing can be compared to what they faced in Libya. There foreigners are considered a source of money, so they are assaulted, even by eleven-year-old children with guns, or they are taken hostage — with only a piece of bread and a glass of water a day — until they pay the amount asked by the kidnappers. “Money, or death,” Abdou told me.

Abdou lived in Libya for three years. The house where he stayed required a rent, but it’s not easy to earn some money in Libya. Many times, after a lot of hard work, he didn’t receive anything. It was dangerous even to go to work, always afraid of being attacked.

As far as my interviewees told me, it would be better to die in the desert rather than to return to Libya. Gassimou showed me a video recorded with his smartphone in a Libyan prison. After those images and their words, I couldn’t keep on talking about Libya. I suffered for them, so I can’t imagine what it means to go through such a horrible experience.

I then asked for their opinions of Italy: the welcome, culture, activities, the present in general.

Gassimou’s homeland is suffering from Ebola, while Abdou escaped from a reality of internal conflicts and revolts. It’s clear that Italy is a relief, from this point of view. They are now staying at a centre in Omegna (a small town not far from Milan) where they can eat regularly, recover and learn to speak Italian. They’re grateful to the volunteers who provide their necessities, but their desire is to be more independent, since they have to ask for permission every time they want to go somewhere. For the same reason, they are looking for a job.

In conclusion, their biggest fear is the commission. It impressed me how Abdou couldn’t remember exactly when he left from Senegal, but knows exactly how many months and days he’s spending in anxiety because of the response.

Sadly, the verdict is often negative for two reasons: first of all, the number of residence permits is limited; secondly, when they think about the political and civil situation of a state, they believe in the official statement. Actually the situation is always more complicated than how it appears on paper. In the case of Senegal, even if the big city of Dakar is quiet, it doesn’t mean that it’s the same in the rest of the country; in the South, especially in the region of Casamance, there are periods of war alternated with periods of “control”, and it’s a never-ending story.

I highly hope that peace will win.

In the meantime, I’d like to send a huge hug to Gassimou and Abdou, and I thank them for overcoming their shyness and for bearing my curiosity. I know they’re speaking about their experiences in schools: keep on doing it, because we need it.

Lucia Mora lives in Italy, served as an interpreter for Pax Christi Italy at the Annual General Meeting of Pax Christi International, and is a member of the Young Peace Journalists. Lucia is 18 years old and a student who loves humanistic subjects. She describes herself as a curious girl with two passions: music (she is a musician since she was a child) and cinema. She also loves drawing.

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