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From Africa to Italy by Boat: Unravelling the Mediterranean Migration ‘Crisis’ in Italy
May 11, 2016 /// 00:00
In 2015, over 150,000 women and men from West and East Africa risked their lives in rickety and dangerous boats to reach the southern shores of Italy from Libya. A further almost 3,000 people are known to have drowned in the Mediterranean in the attempt, almost certainly a significant undercount of the ‘true’ number of deaths. In noticeable contrast to the spontaneous and multiple boat arrivals on the Greek islands, boats arriving into Italian waters are shepherded into shore by Italian coastguard boats, with their occupants transported to and hosted in a variety of reception and detention centres throughout Italy, often far from public view. As much of the UK press and general public focused on the ‘deserving’ Syrian refugees arriving in Greece, the often young women and men fleeing war, civil strife, extreme poverty and family breakdown from African countries have usually been described as “economic migrants”, deserving of sympathy only on occasions of massive loss of life.Drawing on early analysis of qualitative interviews conducted with young men shortly after their arrival in Italy in late 2015 for an ESRC/ DfID funded project, this paper attempts to recalibrate that focus through representing the voices of some of those who arrived last year, their reasons for leaving their homes, future aspirations and dreams. It describes and maps interviewees’ journeys, their trials and tribulations along the way including their interaction with the ‘connection men’ – often described as human traffickers – who facilitate the journeys. Finally, the paper analyses these very human stories within the context of the response of the Italian government within the broader European reaction to the ‘crisis’.