Surrounded by thick black iron fences, Piazza Vittorio, the largest square in Rome, sits as serene as the gardens it holds. Palm trees are scattered throughout the area alongside picturesque fountains to quench the thirst of passerby’s. Locals and tourists in search for shade on a sweltering Tuesday morning make their rounds. Inside the piazza is another group, this one easy to miss, but undeniably there.
They come to Piazza Vittorio to pass the time. Alone or in a group they sit on benches, lean against concrete walls or sleep in the garden. Coming from as far as Mali, most will say they sacrificed their lives boarding rickety boats with hundreds of other asylum-seekers at sea for days, as they waited to get to their next destination: Europe.
But today those individuals are in a similar boat once again: waiting, but this time for documents. Mohamed Saho says:
“Without no job, without no going to school, in Rome you wake up early in the morning you go everywhere you like and you come back and sleep without not doing anything. That is what we are living, one year three months in Italy.”
Behind the red cap that shades part of his eyes, the 22-year-old from Mali looks worn and aged. His eyes are as intense as the journey he describes.
Saho moved to Libya as an economic migrant in order to support his family. On February 15th 2011 his life changed. The revolution in Libya broke out leaving him with little options. Muammar Gaddafi and his forces were using African mercenaries to fight, including Saho’s stepfather who died in the battle.
Leaving everything behind, Saho joined countless young Africans escaping Libya at the time making him now an asylum-seeker. After reaching Lampedusa, his fingerprints were taken and he is currently going through the asylum procedure with the hopes of receiving his travel and work documents.
“Still I am waiting for that appointment to go there and come back, they did not decide anything yet,” Saho says. “I am just waiting now, one year and three months.”
Sitting on a park bench with his two friends, visits to Piazza Vittoria have become a routine for them all. Saho says his daily life in Italy is poor because he cannot go to school.
Sitting next to Saho, 23-year-old Youssi is from Niger. Though he faces the same challenges, he had some luck in finding a part-time job working at a hotel. Since he is paid cash, he is doing unreported work. The little money Youssi makes he shares with friends to buy food, clothes and cigarettes.
Youssi says he avoids calling his family because he has not been able to support them for the last two years. The last time he sent them money, he was working in Libya.
“If I call them, I do not have work, I do not have anything, they will think I will lie, says Youssi. “Maybe I am here, I have a good life, I forget about them. It is not true, they do not know.”
He has also experienced racism living in Italy. Scenes of walking into an Italian boutique and being rushed out quickly are all too familiar to him.
“If you enter the bus or metro you will see people, their faces change and sometimes they will hit you and say ‘go away you are black,’ just like that,” says Youssi.
Staring at the crowds of people walking in and out of the piazza, Youssi says he does not want to lose his future, but has his doubts.
Across the park from the group sits Mutala Mohamed. He is a 24-year-old migrant from Ghana.
“I came from long way, I didn’t die, I crossed Sahara, I crossed international sea and then I am in Italy today so still I do not lose faith.”
© 2014 Living at the Border