Tag Archives: harragas

An asylum roulette

Ancona's port, Italy

13th post. Ancona, Italy. Here is the “Europe” dreamed of by Mussa Khan. Here too, though, welcoming the muhajirins are metal fences and procedures that make applications for asylum a runaway and distant prospect

The Olympic Champion veers North-West, leaving on its route a long wake of babbling foam. The passengers are in line for breakfast in the restaurant, while trembling stains low on the horizon reveal the first stretches of the Italian coastline.

How many migrants are there on board? How many muhajirins are hiding on the trucks crammed on the ship? I observe the people in line lazily grabbing the food at the self service counter. A few meters away, just three levels below us, tens of people might be hiding in narrow spaces, going on hours without food, water or a bathroom.

Another question, though, is obsessing me: what is going to happen to Mussa Khan? What responsibility do I hold for what happened last night on the pier? I will only have the answer when and if Mussa Khan is able to turn his cell phone on: it has been off since the arrest. Continue reading

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Destination Europe

On the walls of Igoumenitsa

12th post. In Igoumenitsa the muhajirins dream of Europe. It does not matter if they are there already: for them, the one that counts is on the other side of the Adriatic. Here Mussa Khan too, as many before him, tries his hand with fate.

“They forced us to put all our things in our backpacks, already packed full. Phones, wallets, bracelets, rings, belts, shoe laces, eyeglasses. The policemen were screaming like madmen, but we were the only ones in the group who could understand their orders in English. If you did not answer right away, you would get hit, no matter if you were young or old”. Sitting in the shade of an oak tree in the suburbs of Igoumenitsa, Mussa Khan and Jamal tell of the horrible days spent in the Greek detention center.

After facing the whirlpools of the Evros together, two weeks ago the unlikely couple, an Iraqi Kurd and an Afghan born in Iran, gave themselves up to the Greek police along with another thirty people. They have not parted since. “They used permanent markers. They wrote a number on our hands. They told us it was so we could find our bag when they would release us”. The black mark is still visible on their skin. “In Kurdistan we mark sheep”. Jamal spits on the floor. “In Europe they mark people”. Continue reading

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The boys of the fence

11 th post. Patras. Along with migrants from all over the world, the muhajirins are also waiting for the right moment to jump the fence bordering the port, in a surreal and dangerous hide and seek with the police. The stake, though, is high: a ship towards Italy and the dream called “Europe”

Laying on his side, Abdallah watches the sun as it sinks in the Adriatic. A light breeze brushes the abandoned terrace where old mattresses are lined. This is the dorm of the Algerian migrants. “That down there”, says Abdallah looking at the fiery horizon, “is not the sea”. He takes a wisp of straw off the floor and passes it through his extremely white teeth. “That is a curtain of a huge stage. If you open it, you can see the most beautiful show in the world: Europe….”

Patras. The echo of the croaking sirens scans the arrivals and departures of the ferries bound for Italy. Huge steel beasts make slow and extremely precise maneuvers among the wharves, on a sheet of water stretching half a kilometer. High fences decorated with rolls of barbed wire sanction the inaccessible borders of the port. From the terrace, the Algerian harragas are able to watch all this at a glance.

“Look down there”, says Abdallah pointing North, near the building where the ticket office is. “That is the Afghan spot. Afghans jump there”. Then he points at the area at our feet: “Down here is where we jump. Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians, Palestinians”. Then he turns his gaze towards South. “I have never seen that area up close. Africans are there. And further down, the Kurds”. Beyond the fence, port police units on motorcycles nervously patrol the area. Continue reading

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Dead end

6th post. The Silk Road of the Third Millennium carries human flesh. Its terminal on Turkish soil is Izmir: here, muhajirins arrive. Muhajirins , like Mussa Khan, who try the Aegean route to end up, too often, at the bottom of the sea. To look for him, I need to enter Basmane, Europe’s door of the last

The shapeless silhouette silently creeps in the blind spot of my visual field, mistress of darkness. All around is Basmane, neighborhood of the damned, Europe’s door of the last.

After perceiving his presence, and before I can even turn around, the man manifests himself with a blatant, almost grotesque, greeting. The hand is already stretched out: “My friend! Were you looking for me?”

Izmir, ancient Smirne, for 2.500 years terminus of the dusty road network better known as the Silk Road. The most thriving bargaining place in the Mediterranean, from here the merchandise from China, India or Arabia finally took to the sea, bound for European ports.

History knows no irony. In the past few years, it has been right here in Basmane, in its historic center, that the migrants, the most precious merchandise of the third millennium, have interrupted their journey by land to face the waves of the Aegean.

Low on the horizon, the Greek islands are visible to the naked eye. After months or years of traveling, the undreamt-of European bank is the persuasive singing of deadly sirens: in this stretch of sea, the waters have swallowed thousands of muhajirins . Or harragas , as some call them here, the “men who burn the frontiers”.

From Basmane, traffic networks are woven that stretch up to the Horn of Africa, Pakistan, Senegal. The Silk Road of the Third Millennium carries human flesh. Continue reading

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