The journey that refugees take from their own country is a long and difficult one. Often resulting in permanent ailments and even death. However, with the only alternative being to remain in a hostile environment and risk death on their own doorstep, the fight or flight mode sets in. You must remember that I am no expert in this area and before three months ago I knew very little of the life of refugees, but having lived among them for some time I think it is important to share what I know and understand now.
I work with forty refugees (as I may have mentioned a few times before) and every single person that has made this journey has a different story. However, they all have one thing in common… they all have a life-threatening motive for leaving their own home. I can’t imagine, no matter how hard I try, to put myself in the shoes of someone that cannot live in their own country because they find a religion that differs to that of their family, or to have a gun pointed at me because I love someone of the same sex or to be punished physically for my political opinion. These are all liberties that I have completely taken for granted in my lifetime, living as an Irish girl in the 21st century in a progressive country.
When they leave their own country, whether from Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Bangladesh or many others the normal route is to travel to Libya through the Sahara Desert. This is where the nightmare begins. Libya is attractive to those who have not visited the country because they hear words such a “jobs” and “money” but the reality is grim and full of corruption. Libya hosts many immigrant detention centres filled with people that they have arrested due to lack of personal identification documents. Within these centres people are left without medical attention, often without enough food, crammed into small living quarters and locked behind bars with a large volume of people to one bathroom facility. The “lucky” ones that make it onto a balloon-like boat that reaches international waters follow the dream of living in Europe and building a better life here.
Every day in the centre that I work in, the refugees start to become like family …slowly and shamefully it becomes easier to forget their plight. Until one day maybe you ask a certain question and their face clouds a little with the memories. “Yes, Libya is dangerous, very very dangerous…if I had known what it would be like in Libya maybe I would not have gone”, “the journey on the water was very difficult. We had to raise our legs in front of us and keep them there for 5 hours straight”, “I miss my children and my wife …. I have an 8month year old son that I have never met, but maybe one day I can give him a better life”, “In Libya we had no home, we stayed outside without shelter and slept on the ground. We were a large group and I watched a lot of people die ...from gunshots, physical beatings and starvation...”
Every time that I listen to a new story I see a different person stand before me and I know that to reach the people of Italy, the Italians must hear these stories.