In search of a safe place

The last few days have shown a continuous appearance of proposals and contra proposals by Italian politicians and European institutions for the management of border controls and sea rescue. To the eulogies for the operation Mare Nostrum, holt recently by the chief prosecutor of Catania, Giovanni Salvi, concur the proposals presented by Alfano to the European Union, based on the agreements with Tunisia and Egypt for coastal patrols and the creation of at least three refugee camps in African countries considered to be safe.

A joint naval patrol would allow a more effective fight “against terrorism and illegal trafficking”, while the financial and technical support of the European Union and UN agencies for refugees and immigrants, UNHCR and IOM, would allow the creation of “safe” places in African countries, where migrants may seek protection without risking their lives at sea. A proposal, that arrives, while the agreements between the Italian and Tunisian patrol teams intensify and denotes an attitude, somehow schizophrenic, by government interlocutors who “regret” the efficiency of rescues performed by Mare Nostrum and simultaneously take action to “push back” those who leave, in the name of a quite doubtful model of outsourced assistance and above focused on closing towards migrants (antoniomazzeoblog). Even UNHCR today, seems not to have taken a final position on this question, by pronouncing instead to a project of voluntary redeployment of Syrian migrants in the countries of Northern Europe (dirittiefrontiere.blogspot).

Memories of the events observed in some refugee camps in Tunisia are still present in many activists. Hundreds of refugees retained in actual camps for an indefinite period and often fled again from there in order to attempt once again entering Italy from Libya. All this suggests the poor, if not non-existent consideration of the real reasons why migrants fled, which tell a lot about the places deemed to be “safe”. The horrible stories and the always more risky departures of those forced to Libya describe situations in which migrants have no choice or opportunity to return and consider the escape by the sea as the only chance to survive and to achieve a decent life. (

Not only Syrians and Palestinians, but also Tunisians continue to escape, dreaming of the freedom and the social justice in daily life which their country does not seem to absolutely guarantee. But elsewhere people prefer to believe that things are not like this, in order to find a political answer to the question that is more convenient.

The silence of migrants in the debates of the leadership, which discuss their fate and how to modify and control their legitimate aspirations, is literally deafening. But it is even more shocking how the public is satisfied with partial and improvised explanations for the future development of these agreements. Who asks himself what will be the hypothetical fate, for example, of those who receive a refusal of protection in a camp based in Tunisia? Who seeks to know and to understand the conditions of the departure of migrants, looking beyond the facts of the known Syrian conflict or the chaos in Nigeria?

In the last year there has been a dramatic increase in arrivals of Gambian migrants, often refused by the Territorial Commissions, which show visible and invisible signs of unimaginable suffering. For many of them the fatal step was from Libya, but, one wonders, what continues to push them towards an already known hell? Again, news items and international politics are not missing, about a small state, named Gambia, which for decades is experiencing very strong limitations on personal and collective freedom. (

The stories will continue to multiply, revealing the different trajectories and aspirations of young people fighting for a protected place where they can start building something, a desire, possibly too difficult to understand for those born already in these conditions.

M. is a young Gambian boy who has recently became of age and who arrived in Italy in June 2014. During the sea crossing he saw his father dying and being thrown into the water without mercy by those who were with him on the boat. They had departed from Gambia because a network of supporters of the present government had already threatened or taken away part of his family. Today M. has obtained a residence permit but he is in Italy, an unknown and not really welcoming country and he finds himself completely alone.

M. suffers a lot for his situation, but regarding a possible return to Gambia or another African country, he does not hesitate to say: “I want to stay here, because at least this is a safe place.” Maybe “too safe”, one might ask the government? How long do we still have to wait until migration policies are designed to protect people and not the boundaries and the interests which are behind?

Lucia Borghi
Borderline Sicilia Onlus

Translation: Catherine Scholz