Translators: Lavinia Spennati & Katherine Siess
Our car speeds on the highway and all around the landscape gradually changes. The road that leads out of Turin goes smoothly down towards the hills of the small towns that have witnessed bloody episodes of the Italian history during the Second World War. After many kilometres we reach the interchange that will lead us to the last Western border of Italy, the historic city of Ventimiglia.
Colorful flowers and plants appear on the sides of the road. Beside the flowers’ lives, we meet migrants’ lives - the walkers, those that some call international workers. Individuals who left behind corrupted societies, violent and dictatorial regimes. People who keep in their minds memories of war, and in their hearts a deep and unforgettable nostalgia of a place to call home.
On San Ludovico bridge the view is impressive. Right on the opposite side of the new customs barrier, the famous and wealthy French cities appear as a desert mirage, so different from the lives of the people who stand on this side of the border. Nonetheless, the atmosphere here is not one of resignation, but instead one of desire. Under the historical routes of the smugglers, new stories will be written.
Stories of life and stories of death - as the two migrants ran over by a train, whose dead bodies were found last year in a gallery running parallel to the highway. Names and faces of people we couldn’t or didn’t want to know.
When stories meet, history becomes memory. The activists of “No Borders”, a permanent sit-in in solidarity with migrants, remind everyone that in the 1940s anti-fascists and Jewish families used the same pathways to flee the brutal regime of Mussolini and racial persecution. Stories of scuttles and betrayals, such as the passeurs who used to offer their help for the crossing and eventually either delivered groups of people to the Political Police or left them scattered and thirsty among the brambles.
A human flow; this is how I would describe these migrants. A flow that comes and goes, as a steam finding its way through to the sea. A human flow hitting the hard rock of the Italian and French police check-points - hitting and hitting again, relentlessly.
This flow wears the black eyes of young men coming from Sudan and West African countries, black and deep as the sea.
Impossible to forget those eyes, although sometimes names and stories told are hard to recall - but not the eyes. Those are eyes hold many different emotions: delays, fatigue, expectations. Those are eyes that have learnt how to wait for the right moment. Eyes where at any point of the day and the night one can see a light reflection, a life reflection.
Italy, Europe, what do you fear? To be healed? I recall the words of an old missioner I met in Turin, who said that the movements of millions of human beings will change history and our societies. For the better.
However, it will take time to see the change, probably decades. These might be changes that today’s sons will see, but they will come because they are relentless. These changes will be made of people’s tragedies and bravenesses, failures and victories.
“We are not going back”.
The Italian guys and girls who built up the sit-in are strong but tired. For more than twenty days they have led struggles and concrete actions to protect the dignity of migrants from harsh attacks. These youth comes from cities on the Italian coast next to Ventimiglia. They have walked and mediated side by side with the migrants.
Many stop at the Italian Red Cross unit - another constant flow, especially in the afternoons. Italian and French citizens with their families stop and bring food and basic provisions. They ask questions and take pictures with the intention to report the situation once at home. A country, France, that despite its historical fights against the Kings’ Absolutism, nowadays sends back to Italy asylum seekers from Marseille, Nice, Calais and Paris. At the cars check-point the first control is based on the skin colour - white pass, black stop for additional controls.
“We are not going back”.
The people. The people from Liguria who committed to help the migrants were not driven by a political reason - not all of them. For them it was a question of dignity - because if goods and services have free movement in Europe, it is unacceptable that human beings are less valuable. Human beings breathe, walk, speak, cry unlike washing machines made in Germany.
Blue eyes meet black eyes, and the encounter strikes them and ties them together. Fiamma is one of the nurses who takes care of the young men like a mother -she does everything from medicine to food. Why? “Because after this probably there will be no one to help them, to take care of their needs”.
At night, the moon paints white a strip in the sea creating an atmosphere of manifest calm. People try to rest after the daily fast of Ramadan and think, study, reflect.
A sailboat passes by, pushing the night further on.
“We are not going back”.
Alessandro Ciquera lives and works in Turin, Northen Italy. During the past few years he collaborated with organizations for human rights and civil struggle in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq. In those contests he became firmly committed in supporting grassroots experiences of solidarity with migrants and refugees asking for dignity and social justice in Europe.
Alessandro works in the Juvenile Detention centre of Turin where he is engeged in educational and work projects.