Our return to Ventimiglia

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Brief fragments of our reportage were transleted in English by Anna Cingoli.

Our journey begins in the last place we visited: the “Hobbit Bar”, located near Ventimiglia’s train station and run by Delia Buonuomo, more known as “migrants’ mammy”. Due to her generous help (hot economic meals, charging phones etc) given during these years to those arrived in Ventimiglia seeking fortune, the bar is now ostracized by Italian costumers.

Compared to this summer, the situation changed:

  • From being the main volunteer and migrants’ headquarter, “Hobbit bar” has become now a corollary structure to other local entities committed to volunteering.
  • Such as “Hobbit bar” also “Natività di Don Rito’s church” – not so long ago essential for the gestation of migrant flows- has lost his central role: a summit held last august in Imperia has declared that the church cannot be anymore considered a suitable place for migrants’ accommodation.

To meet the Ventimiglia’s new heart of reception activities and integration we move to Tenda road that runs alongside Gianchette’s bridge. Here there is located “Eufemia”, info and legal point managed by some local businesses committed to volunteering.

Gianchette’s neighbourhood can give us the possibility to look with our eyes what, from august, didn’t changed: intolerance by a fringe of locals. This is proven by the appearance of an old lady in front of the info point and, pointing some guys lined up to enter, ask to a volunteer: “Why don’t you tell them to go to Roja’s camp?” (the reception camp run by Red Cross). Then, angrily continues on her speech: “they eat 3 per day, while I can’t do it because I have to pay taxes. Tell to those of the Government to come here and live in Tenda’s road!”


The day at “Eufemia” starts at 10.30, when volunteers pull up the blinds of the info point. From this moment on until 18.30, a constant flow of people will step on the floor of the little room in Tenda’s Street.

As soon as we entered there, we saw some migrants handing over their cell phones, fundamental instrument to those who cross/go through the entire world, to recharge them.

Somebody prefer instead to make reservation to use computers and connect to the web: some call at home, others plan their next stop of their travel, others again prefer enjoying watching some funny videos, as we often do. Every day we encounter some new faces seeking solace, health care (as soap, tampons and razors) or some clothes just to warm themselves a little.

However, some mornings we cannot enter at Eufemia’s. Tuesday and Thursday takes place “Woman’s day” and the site becomes off-limits for all men. Female migrants manage then to create a more confidential bond with the female volunteers. Despite language barriers, the main purpose of these meetings are to become aware of any abuses or violence.

It is exactly in these mornings that usually the male group spreads along Ventimiglia’s territory for monitoring activities: volunteers will inspect train station, “High” border – the one from Italy to France (7) – and “Low” border – from France to Italy – to check that there will not be any kind of violence from police against migrants.

One day we move by car to arrive to the High border, where there is a bus that will be fill by French Gendarmerie with all those irregular, without document migrants founded in French territory (also against International Law, moving also minors). At the end of the day, the bus will have only one destination: Taranto.

In the early afternoon, after the controls, we come back to the info point. In the back, we met Alessandra that ask us to lower the voice tone because she is having an interview with a young migrant. In these moments, they try to explain how Italian reception system works. The activity of legal assistance is fundamental for many youngster that cannot understand why they are continuously rejected or send to Taranto. The target of assistance is to “try to guarantee easing/tranquillity during interviews (in case of asylum application), often really exhausting” and “give an idea of continuity and certainty”.


To not disturb, we decide to leave the place and we go to Gainnette’s bridge. During these last years, many migrants -often without documents- settle along the riverbed. The common goal to all those people there is to cross as soon as possible the border to move to the other European countries (France, England, Norway, Germany) and rejoin to their families and friends. Every day new tents pop up and new clever construction to protect their selves from the cold.

The camp is subdivided in four ethnic blocks: the dispositions of the tent is defined by the nationalities of origin. Entering by parking lots near Tenda’s road, on the right side there are predominantly Eritreans, Ethiopians and Sundaes: “good people”, always capable to “smile back when you are trying to help them”. The central corridor is for Afghans. On the left side instead, almost inside the Roja’s river, there are the Nigerians that tend to isolate theirself the most. “Often are them to control the market of drugs and prostitutions, forcing women to sell their body”, reveals us one of the volunteers.

The situation is tough and this helps the game of the undercover “passeurs” (smugglers) that can easily make money from migrants’ desperation, especially from those from different nationality of theirs. Lack of solidarity between races are always on the agenda: hardly have they helped each other to get firewood and many times, there have been episodes of fights or mobiles’ thefts.

Sanitation and hygiene conditions are at a critical level for everyone: there are no porta-potties nor showers. Scabies is spreading at an alarming pace, and medications are very few compared to the number of sick people. Since not long ago, some days during the week some volunteers doctors visit who needs medications under the bridge in a gazebo, but unfortunately this isn’t enough.

At the end of the bridge, we can see Federica giving sacks and gloves to some guys in order to maintain the pebbly riverbed as clean as possible from rubbish. Unfortunately, not everyone is willing to help, and this detrimental for maintaining an adequate level of sustainable hygiene.

A little past Federica we can see Nina and Faruk, two volunteers of Eufemia, teaching the basic course of French on a little blackboard hung on a column of the bridge. In this way, the guys more in need have a chance of learning essential sentences useful for the development of a decent conversation.

While listening the guys repeating aloud French sentences, a ball touches our heels. It came from a makeshift soccer field made up in a parking near the bridge. Here, when possible, the guys play a match of 10 minutes in a 5 vs 5: the winner stays, just like when we were kids as well. Maybe this is one of the very few moment when they can have fun and feel just like when they were younger.


Mahmoud and “Trail of death”

During one of these matches, we met Mahmoud, a guy escaped from Darfur (a region in Western Sudan). In order to reach Ventimiglia, he had to cross Libya. As he reported, “Libya is a place worse than hell. There everyone, from children to adults, is a criminal”. Going around in the streets is not safe there, because “almost every inhabitant has a weapon, and being shot on sight is not uncommon”.

Mahmoud explained that, in Libya, refugees are locked in prisons and tortured in an inhumane way. Tortures are filmed, and videos are sent to the families, who are called to pay a ransom to stop the pain. “I managed to escape only at the third attempt”, Mahmoud says, adding: “even if here the situation is hard, I consider myself lucky because a lot of my friends are still in Libya: now I feel safe, and I’m not constantly scared anymore”. Once disembarked in Italy, “I called home to inform I was alive”. “They celebrated and thanked Allah” by doing karama, a typical Sudanese custom consisting in slitting a baby goat’s throat and donating money to other families of their village.

In his first 27 days of “stay” in Ventimiglia, Mahmoud tried to reach France eight times in every possible way: train, roads, paths.

The most important path is the so called “Trail of death”, which is a track not showed on official maps that connects Grimaldi (the Ventimiglia’s fraction more near to France, 6 km far from the city centre) to Mentone (first transalpine town arriving from Italy). When arrived to the barbed wire barrier that delimits the border, many migrants turn wrongly to the left, attracted by the seaside, that is not safe and where we already had news of fatal accidents (unfortunately also recently).

Many migrants change their clothes during the route, dressing up with the most elegant they have to camouflage themselves more easily once arrived to Mentone. They get rid of their personal documents and of any other poof that attests an eventual period passed in Italy. (during our exploration we found a report of an interview to an asylum seeker ended with a no recognition of “international protection status”).

Hamza and Campo Roja

Hamza is a seventeen years old Tunisian guy, arrived in Italy in January 2018 with a friend.

We started our journey directly from Tunisia, the boat threw us into the sea 100 meters far from the coast, no exceptions neither for women and children. To arrive to the shore we had to swim, maybe somebody did not make it.”

The first day, 8 hours of walk from Siculiana to Agrigento. Afterwards, Hamza decide to activate the process for the documents’ request. Forced to abandon the friend, without money needed to continue the journey, Hanza left for Rome, then Pisa, Milan and Turin. After two weeks of misadventures, arrives in Ventimiglia and –how they suggested him-, he heads to Roja’s Camp, where he is identified and he initiates the hospitality’s request. In the future, Hanza would like to obtain the documents, find a job that will led him to rack up money and go back to Tunisia. “I don’t want to stay here all my life; indeed I prohibited my brother to take my same path”.

Regarding Roja’s Camp, Hamza complained that the room that they gave him was “too small” to host his five afghans flat mates and he, and that he could not take shower because of the impracticability of the bathrooms. Instead, according to Mayor Ioculano that was interviewed few days before, he declared that the hygienic-sanitary situation


This map was drawn by Mosab, an Eritrean guy we met at the Infopoint, whose goal was to show us the journey of his fellow countryman Abrahm. First, he walked on foot for two days from Asmara, which is the capital city of Eritrea, to Shire, which is one of the northernmost districts of Ethiopia. To complete this first stretch, he paid 30 thousand nakfas, which means 2 thousand dollars. Then, he moved to Khartoum, which is the capital city of Sudan (Ethiopia’s neighboring State) and also a crucial/necessary step for Central African migration flows. In this case, A. moved by taxi driven by Sudanese traffickers and paid 1800 dollars. Bani Walid, one of the main harbors in Northern Libya, is the last African stop: to arrive here required a payment of 1700 dollars. To cross the Mediterranean Sea is the last, and most expensive, part of the journey. Traffickers obliged A. to pay 5500 dollars to reach Sicily. The total amount reaches 11 thousand dollars.

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