The official news service of the Inter-European Division
February 07, 2017 | Bern, Switzerland. | Corrado Cozzi, CD-EUDNews.
Speaking of refugees is surely in order these days. The first pages of newspapers all over the world dedicate a space to the phenomenon that is “invading” our daily lives, and it makes sense. Between government agreements and legislative decrees, the attention placed on refugees is becoming more prominent.
It is, however, one thing to read news about administrative declarations that tend to safeguard the rights of the citizens with the goal of protecting them from deadly invasions (thus creating a controversial public opinion), and it is another thing to directly inform oneself, on site.
The latter was the action of a delegation from the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Dag Pontvik (Director of ADRA Italia), Daryl Gungadoo (engineer for AWR Europe), Paolo Mariotti (operator at Hope Channel Italia), and Corrado Cozzi (Director of EUD Communications) found themselves in Lampedusa from January 30 to February 1st, 2017, with the primary goal of evaluating what type of collaboration and contribution the Adventist Church could provide in favor of the migrants.
The governmental and non-governmental associations working in the area are many. These are volunteer associations, such as Mediterranean Hope, Askausi, of the local Parish, along with a forum composed of some residents who have been moved by this emergency. Everyone desires to contribute practically to the welcome and care of these youth who have escaped not only their country’s calamity, but even more the abuse sustained by an extenuating journey during which they also faced death.
The result of this work was the occurrence of a significantly positive meeting, where awareness should (and will) kick off the motivation for greater solidarity and collaboration.
“There is no need to come here” – assures Alberto Mallardo, co-manager for the Mediterranean Hope, along with 4 other members, all of whom are young and extremely committed – “What really matters is the welcome given when these refugees arrive in the target countries of their exodus.”
Don Carmelo La Magra, parish priest of the Catholic Church of Lampedusa, echoes the sentiment. He is already responsible for the Migrant Association of Agrigento and his primary job is spiritual and material consultation.
“Here at Lampedusa, the youth (as we refer to the migrants) receive spiritual and material assistance. We tell them about their rights and inform them on what will happen to them. Yes, they also need shoes, a lot of them, and underwear,” Don Carmelo affirms with a smile.
To better coordinate the humanitarian interventions provided by the volunteers at Lampedusa, a forum was organized. The goal is to meet the youth and help them overcome the tragedy sustained from their journey.
“The most disconcerting part is hearing them talk about their friends who drowned before their eyes,” says Paola Larosa, “and listening to their sad stories.”
Paola is actively involved in a highly respectable humanitarian cause. Her commitment among others is to provide a dignified burial for the youth who did not make it. She has taken the responsibility of modifying the phrases on the gravestones that say ‘Migrant, black, unknown’ to a more dignified description of the buried person, the cause of death, a date, and a simple thought ‘Here lies’.
“The message I would like to transmit is that we feel invaded by migrants however, since they arrived here, it is our duty to help them regain the dignity that they lost, especially during the journey in Libya, where not everyone came out unscathed,” Paola tells us, along with a request to convey an image that honours to the residents of this small Mediterranean island.
During our stay on the island, we had the opportunity to meet these youth and talk with them. Their stories are a confirmation of what we were told.
“No, I am never returning to Libya! It is hell,” declares a migrant, with tears in his eyes.
“They treated us like animals, enslaved, tortured. They forced many girls into rooms where men raped them, paying those who profit from this lowly human trade.”
Many girls arrive here pregnant, distressed by their terrible experiences, but they choose to keep their babies because, to them, the babies are not responsible.
“Did you know that the journey you would be undertaking would take you through these tragedies?” we ask them.
Their response is blunt: “No! We wanted to go work in Libya; we never would have expected such a situation.”
“If you had the opportunity, would you warn your friends to not go?”
This opportunity to warn their friends is provided by Mediterranean Hope, every afternoon, allowing these youth to contact their family and friends via a computer. Some of them have Facebook contacts, Skype, or only a phone.
“This is not only a commitment,” says Marta, collaborator and one of the founders of Mediterranean Hope, “it is a duty that we owe them.”
Daryl Gungadoo, engineer for AWR, proposed the installation of an Internet Point with an ample range, which would considerably streamline the internet traffic throughout the Mediterranean Hope headquarters.
“It would be extraordinary!” exclaimed Alberto, highlighting the need to increase the contact between these youth and their families.
Dag Pontvik, Director of ADRA Italia, has confirmed that there is planned collaboration on a project to help some migrants who are committed to learning a trade, useful for when they will return to their country. To better understand, we moved from Lampedusa to Castel Volturno, on February 3 and 4, to meet those who are benefitting from the ADRA Italia project.
“This is a project fulfilled together with the Al di là dei Sogni cooperative, directed by Simmaco,” explains Elisa Gravante, directing manager of the project. This cooperative is located at Castel Volturno, on a property confiscated from the Mafia, and it welcomes these migrants coming from Lampedusa. Such a project should be recognized as a praiseworthy effort to restore dignity to those who lost it during an obligatory and frantic exodus that they had to unconsciously undergo.
“We are grateful to Simmaco and Elisa Gravante of ADRA Italia for the opportunity that we were given,” shares a smiling David, one of the 9 migrants.
“This will allow me to learn a trade and open a farming business when I return to my country.”
He is not alone in this thinking.
“My dream is that this action by ADRA Italia will be an invitation to Europe to share the task, because together we will be stronger,” declares Simmaco, an entrepreneur with a strong sense of duty to these youth who have displayed a praiseworthy will to learn.
In the same week in which, at La Valletta, Malta, the great administrators of Europe met to decide how to combat the migratory flow that is invading our countries, another event was taking place on an island close to Malta. At Lampedusa, a delegation from ADRA Italia and AWR, coordinated by the Seventh-Day Adventist Inter-European Division was meeting with the migrants, the object of great debate.
“We listened to their stories and we prayed together, seeing as the majority of these African youth are Christians,” concludes Corrado Cozzi. “I will not hide the fact that we also cried together. We would like to do so much more. It is a moral duty for all; we are organizing ourselves.”