Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Young Peace Journalists: Refugees’ journeys include many perils


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. 


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.


Conversations rich with meaning: A reflection on Pax Christi International’s Annual General Membership meeting

NOTE: In mid-June, Pax Christi International held our Annual General Membership meeting as well as our International Board meeting. Lucia attended as a translator for the representative of Pax Christi Italy, Don Renato Sacco. It was her first experience of our movement. She is 18 years-old.

By Lucia Mora (Italy)

Lucia (right) with Don Renato during the discussion on Israel-Palestine.
Lucia (right) with Don Renato during the discussion on Israel-Palestine.

I had the honor (but it was more a pleasure) of participating in the meeting organized by Pax Christi International in Bruxelles.

Pax Christi is an international movement for peace, divided into different sections all around the world – including Italy. In my modest role, I did my best to translate from English to Italian for Renato Sacco, Pax Christi Italy’s representative at the meeting.

Three intense days were rich with meaning. We discussed war, immigration, nuclear disarmament and much more. I can say it is rare to take part in such an event; in fact, I am still humanly and positively moved by my participation. To meet people who still have the courage of investigating and who are open to discussions with others, to deal with themes which we all hear about thanks to the television (but without “filters”) increases curiosity towards reality and the will to intervene.

To listen to points of view coming from many countries, all different from each other, is the most constructive thing a young woman like me could ask for. We don’t talk about these things at school; every teacher has his own reason: “You students are too young to understand,” “Nobody really knows what is happening,” or “I haven’t enough time to explain that.” I’m happy because I’ve finally found a movement which has dedicated and is still dedicating its time to dealing with those themes – men and women who are not discouraged by terrorism but who conserve the strong desire of helping those who suffer, and do it concretely. I didn’t talk to politicians who exploit the misery of those who can’t rebel in their own favour; I talked instead with people who are directly involved in these realities and who work so that everyone looks at those problems for what they really are and in order to contribute to improving them.

Participants in the Annual General Membership meeting in June 2016, Brussels.
Participants in the Annual General Membership meeting in June 2016, Brussels.

For three days I breathed the air of generosity, solidarity and the spirit of initiative, far from the hate and the egoism which sadly are imposed on us every day just for an election campaign.

I want to thank with my whole heart all those people who accompanied me during this experience, and I can’t find a better way to do it than personally, everyone for his features.

Thanks to Beth and Javier, the first two young faces I saw who welcomed and reassured me.

Thanks to Greet for being always available, whatever my needs were.

Thanks to Bart for wanting me to speak Italian, so that he could practice it and I could take a break from English; thanks also for helping me with the check-in online, and for cursing technologies with me. “Old school, good school!”

Thanks to José from El Salvador for encouraging me, for sustaining my campaign in favour of beer and for being indignant after he got to know that in Italy’s section you have to be adult if you want to be active. “You could be a great candidate, instead!”

Thanks to Bishop Kevin from South Africa for sharing his years of experience and work, a big source of inspiration to emulate. “Nonviolence” is a term more concrete than what others may think.

Lucia and Don Renato discussing Pax Christi Italy's efforts to help refugees.
Lucia and Don Renato discussing Pax Christi Italy’s efforts to help refugees.

Thanks to Marie from the USA, for her will to cooperate even with countries like Italy whose institutions (starting from the Government) are uncooperative and for her trust in my capacities.

Thanks to Pat and Ann from the United Kingdom, for their warm welcome and for bearing our Italian jokes about Brexit.

Thanks to Carmen from Uruguay for getting me known and letting me be part of an Uruguayan traditional rite called “el mate”, an herbal infusion of fraternity. Absolutely not like the Argentinian’s one!

Thanks to Rania from Palestine for infecting me with her will to act and to act now. War doesn’t wait for anyone.

Thanks to Johnny from the USA, disgusted by American worship for weapons and in favour of a partnership with Italy, another country far from innocence in terms of arms industries. He is a great photographer too: thanks for the pictures you have taken, they will be one of my best memories!

Thanks to Martha active in many areas of South America (Chile, Colombia, Perù…) for being so positive towards me that she defined me “the new generation of Pax Christi”.

Thanks to Tony from India (but living in Ireland) for his compliments of my English and my work even if I felt small in such a big context. Thanks also for updating me about Dublin; I have always wanted to visit it.

Thanks to Freek from the Netherlands for demonstrating that it is possible to explain our own country’s conditions in the beauty of sixty seconds (his chronometer was impassive). It should be a lesson for those politicians who take a year to talk about a fact, and then also disguise it. They must learn from his “Protestant pragmatism”.

Thanks to Kevin from New Zealand, willing to sacrifice a quiet breakfast to discuss with me the economical and political situations of our two countries. When he asked me about Italy and I threw up my hands, he first laughed, but then he left me his calling card inviting me to visit New Zealand. I have no doubt I will be there soon!

Thanks to Jonathan from Geneva for joining us at dinner and telling us the stories which television doesn’t show. Thanks also for the admirable work you do at the UN on behalf of us all.

Thanks to Marino from Italy but participating in the name of Pax Christi France. You’re full of positive energy, the same that cheered us up in Bruxelles. Keep showing that we’re not “too young”, even for UNESCO!

In the end, last but not least, Don Renato from his beloved Cesara: thanks for giving me this international opportunity I’ll never forget. You fought against your aching shoulder just to listen to my modest translation and to walk in the rain. I’m a bit afraid for you, actually… However, you have to admit it: you may have met Pope Francis, but nobody offers you a religious comparison as much as I do!

Thanks also to all those people I haven’t mentioned but who supported me anyway; I hope to have other occasions to get to know you better and to share more words with you in the future. Thanks to everybody for these three days of sympathy, culture, information and—as far as it concerns me—of growth.

To see photos of the AGM, click here.

To read a short report regarding the AGM, click here.