We crossed the borders

The testimonies evening "We crossed the borders" in Palermo, Sicily, on September 30th 2017

Rome (NEV), 5 October 2017 – The column “Lo sguardo dalle frontiere” (A gaze from the border) is written by operators of the Mediterranean Hope (MH) migration project promoted by the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI). This weeks “gaze” comes straight from the Diaconal Centre “La Noce” (Palermo Sicily), where the international conference “Vivere e testimoniare la frontiera”(Living and witnessing the border) was held.

“We crossed the borders”. So, began the story of Adel and Bandiougou who recounted their first-hand experiences of two very different journeys during the first evening of the conference organised by MH/FCEI on migration, borders and reception.

Adel is a Syrian from Homs. He arrived in Italy from Lebanon with the humanitarian corridors together with his family on a regular Alitalia flight. Bandiougou is Malayan and belongs to the group of so-called “unaccompanied minors.” He landed in Pozzallo (Sicily) in 2015 with only the clothes on his back.

Their stories, desires and memories were the main feature of a powerful moment of testimonies and meetings with those who attended the conference. They were asked questions about what they went through before and after they crossed the border, how they felt when they left their country and when they arrived in Italy. It was an opportunity to send a message to Italians, but also to the world, because the audience was made up of representatives from churches and organisations all over Europe and the United States.

It was also an opportunity for operators involved in the reception and integration activities to talk about the important work of “building bridges,” and challenging every frontier, even the mental ones.

Adel, born again

My name is Adel. I come from Syria, and I am originally from Homs. I am 34 and I arrived in Italy last December with the humanitarian corridors. I have five children. I really like it here in Palermo. I am happy because the streets, markets and neighbourhoods of Palermo remind me so much of my city. I am happy because I immediately started going to school. I attended middle school. I am learning Italian and am on the road to being independent. In fact, I will start a fixed-term job that I hope will make me more independent. I remember well the day of my arrival. It was Thursday, 1 December of 2016, when I got out of the plane and set foot on Italian soil, I felt like I was born again. I was leaving behind a past full of sadness and I felt like l was facing a future full of motivation and hope.

Before arriving in Italy, our living conditions in Lebanon were bad. My family and I suffered a lot, but so did other Syrian refugees. They were three very painful years. The Lebanese authorities imposed a curfew, limiting our freedom of movement, so we could not look for work. We faced some very difficult moments. I felt frustrated.

The first conflicts led many Syrian citizens (including my family, friends, relatives and neighbours) to flee, in an attempt to reach the inner areas of Syria that were safer. However, the mixing of conflicts, spread of fighting in the area, lack of food and basic necessities, especially for children, families, women and the elderly, forced us to leave the territory with the help of traffickers who allowed us to cross the border. Some headed towards Lebanon, others Turkey or Jordan. I, along with many others, found myself in the Lebanese refugee camps. The desperate living conditions in the refugee camps made me think about contacting the traffickers to cross, even illegally, the borders to reach Turkey and then Greece. It was very difficult, but when I managed to contact one, the amount he asked was too high and I couldn’t afford it. Unfortunately, the traffickers take advantage of the desperation of refugees and some who lose all hope have no other choice but to turn to them. I was lucky enough to meet the operators of the humanitarian corridors and after a few months, I was on a plane to Italy together with my family. In my suitcase, I packed hope and the smiles of my children.

I now want to take a minute to thank “my” family who welcomed me, the operators and cultural mediators and Anna (editor’s note: Anna Ponente, director of the Diaconal Centre of La Noce di Palermo), who is like a mother to us, and to many others, who are our big family. My hope is to be completely independent and self-sufficient. I want to realise my dream of being a good father through my work, my home, and to be able to walk down the streets of Palermo freely. I want my children to have a future and I want my family to live peacefully. I want to bring hope to others. I would also like to thank all the operators and activists who work day and night, fighting for human rights. I hope that the borders will all come down, so that we can live peacefully in a free world, and I hope that Italy continues to be a model for human rights.

Bandiougou, God does not do anything for nothing

My name is Bandiougou and I come from Mali. I landed in Pozzallo in October of 2015. I was 16 years old. I really like Palermo. I work and go to school and I belong to a theatre group.

When I left Libya by the sea at night, I watched the lights and it seemed like I would never get away from them, I thought I would never arrive. When I was rescued by an Italian ship, I immediately felt like I was in Italy. I was very emotional when I set foot on Italian land. I couldn’t believe it. I was not sure that I would arrive. I thanked God and my mother. God does not do anything for nothing. There will be a reason and I am lucky to be in Italy.

The road has been very difficult for me. Before, I was the one telling the other guys “don’t go to Italy! You might die, it’s better to work in the fields,” meanwhile I had saved up some money. I don’t even know myself why I decided to leave, but at some point, I made that decision. I am a stubborn person. I don’t look backwards. In Libya, there were children holding guns who would insult your mother and you had to keep quiet. Just one wrong look and they would shoot. I arrived in a camp where we were given one meal a day, not much cooked food. I offered to cook so that we could eat better. There were 500 of us and others followed my example, so at least we had eaten well before getting on the boat. First, I crossed Burkina Faso, where I used up most of my money. They know where you are going, so they stop you constantly and you have to pay. I crossed Niger, and then the desert before arriving in Algeria, where I stayed for one year and seven months. Then I decided to come to Italy. There are always intermediaries to help you negotiate with the authorities of the transit country or arrival country. We had to pay to cross the desert, knowing that they could put us in jail, but for the traffickers we are just goods to be sent to a destination.

I didn’t have a suitcase, or hope. Everything was uncertain. I lost the shoes that I had bought, they took everything from us: we got off the boat with nothing, only t-shirt and trousers.

On arriving in Italy my first pillar was Valeria at the House of Cultures in Scicli. She spoke to me in English, while I tried to speak in Italian. I tried to learn Italian right away because language is fundamental. I wanted everything and I wanted it quickly. Valeria would say to me “take it easy” and we will find a place where you can find your path, calmly”. Then I met Anna, and then I wanted to go back to Valeria, I missed her. Months have passed, I have really experienced the city, and I like it here at La Noce. I don’t want to move from here. I found my family. If I ask Anna, “I need this thing,” she immediately tries to get it done, there is a solution for everything. There are so many people who have helped me along the way and who got me involved in theatre, cinema, cultural laboratories and crafts, poetry.

I have never stopped moving, you either move or you stay still. My greatest desire is for all the wars in the world to end so that we can live in peace, without being forced to flee, respecting human rights.

Thank you for coming here today. I know you didn’t come here to see a performance, but you came to donate your time, your cooperation and your heart to this cause. We ask you to do good, to help people, always, not only people who land here but also your neighbors. We can also help here, let’s help each other, no one is above you and no one is below you, we are all in the middle, together with the others.