Italy: looking on the brighter side
30 January 2015

Issouf: "Right now I'm happy because I have a job." (Oscar Spooner / Jesuit Refugee Service)
Rescued – What next? Protection seekers stranded in Sicily
Soccorsi e poi? Voci di rifugiati arrivati in Sicilia
You know, when you see with your eyes how people are suffering, you have to help... I have a job, I eat, I am ok, but I know my family suffers so I have to help them more than I help myself. Right now I am happy because I have a job; I have everything. But we are all Africans and I see my friends, the way they are suffering, and I am not happy with that.
Sicily, 30 January 2015 – Although most of the refugees and asylum seekers we met were unhappy with their lot, we did come across a few who were relatively content and calm. There were clearly discernable reasons for this. Some had just got their documents and this buoyed their optimism. The two refugees who appeared to be the most settled had stayed not in CARA di Mineo, a large reception centre for asylum seekers, but in smaller reception centres that offered solid opportunities for integration and this made a big difference.

Other significant factors were having a place to call home and a job or at least the possibility of getting one. Those who appeared to be happier also tended to have more Italian friends. While luck played a part in their destiny it seems that such good fortune is not the portion of many: from what we saw and heard from refugees and veteran Centro Astalli (Jesuit Refugee Service Italy office) workers, success stories are the exception, not the rule.

Testimonies

Bob:
"I stayed in a national reception and integration centre, or SPRAR, called Aci Sant' Antonio near Catania for two years and four months. First I went to high school and then I did a course to be a pizzaiolo (to make pizza). The centre was ok – they gave us food and other necessary things like clothes and shoes. We had entertainment and optional activities, not to get bored, so we didn't have time to think and worry.

"I made a lot of Italian friends while I was in the camp – I am a musician, a Gospel hip-hop artist, my mode of music is praising God and thanking him for all he has done in our lives. The camp managers would call me to give concerts in town, in the church, in schools. I left the camp after I got a document, so now I can walk in the streets and not be afraid of the police – the Centro Astalli lawyer helped me a lot, he is my numero uno!

"I was looking for a job for a year but I couldn't find anything. I used to go around the streets asking people if they have a job for me. Then I got lucky. A friend of mine helped me to get a job at a new supermarket. I help people load their shopping in the car, especially elderly people. I'm a trolley-ista! The customers say I am good and respectful, I sweep the compound every blessed day, and the managers are happy with me and treat me well, they are 100% kind to me. They say that as time goes on, they will give me a good contract. God is helping me through this job.

"I live in a house with my girlfriend, we pay rent, we have food... one thing I believe is that it is good to be positive, you have to believe, not necessarily that you will find, but to have confidence anyway. My stay in Italy is good, I thank God. What makes me happiest is that I have documents. We strangers in Europe need documents to do things for ourselves."

Marcel:
"There is a big difference between life at CARA di Mineo and life in Catania because at CARA, I didn't have freedom, I couldn't really do what I wanted, but here in Catania, I am free, I have friends, I am learning Italian, and this is all very important for me. I started to talk Italian after just one month of classes and this is really good. The thing I want most now is to find work, because I must live, I must have a family, I want to get married... I want to have a normal life. I have hope for the future because if you have health, you can have hope."

Nazeer:
"My family is in Pakistan – I left a wife, a daughter and son behind. My son was just a baby then, he must have grown so much. I spent 27 months at CARA di Mineo but I'm happy that finally, after receiving a rejection the first time, I have documents. I have been here at the CARA for a very long time, but I didn't have any other way to go – I could not work outside because I didn't have documents, I couldn't go back to Pakistan, what I could do? I am so happy now because I have documents. My hopes are to fi nd a job, to bring my family here and to have a happy life without serious problems. I want to do so many things for my children and for my parents back home."

Issouf:
"I came by boat to Lampedusa, and then I was transferred to Sicily to a reception centre – not a CARA though. While staying there, I went to a school for interpreters – I had educational qualifications from home and I could show them so I got into the school, I was lucky – and later I found a job as a cultural mediator. When I left the centre, since I had a job, I could rent a house.

"Although my pay is poor, at least I can still survive and send money home every month. I really need to help my family, they don't have a good life so I send half my wages to my parents and sisters, and keep the other half here. You know, when you see with your eyes how people are suffering, you have to help... I have a job, I eat, I am ok, but I know my family suffers so I have to help them more than I help myself. Right now I am happy because I have a job; I have everything.

 "But we are all Africans and I see my friends, the way they are suffering, and I am not happy with that. More people are sleeping outside. Just go to the train station and see. I am lucky because I went to school, I learned more, I am intelligent, God helped me. In my country I had to suffer but here I have not suffered too much and I thank God for that."

The full report is available here.