09 August 2011

From war to the CIE. Walid, an Algerian in Italy

Photograph by Simona Granati

Boubacar has realized this over time. That heaven does not exist. And that ties, by dint of being pulled, get broken. And in the last few days he has repeated this ad nauseam to his new cellmate. His name is Walid, he too is Algerian, but he is only 21. The more Boubacar looks at him, the more he feels like he’s looking at himself at the beginning of his Italian adventure, when he first arrived in Palermo, at the young age of 17. It was way back in 1984. At that time people used to travel without a problem on the ferry lines from Tunis. All you needed was a passport in your pocket. Thirty years later, it’s a different story. And it fell to Walid to travel without a ticket and at the risk of his life. He was working in Tripoli when the war caught him unawares. He disembarked in Lampedusa two months ago. But unlike other war refugees (Nigerians, Eritreans, Malians, Somalis, Pakistanis ...), he and all the Arabs on board the vessel were transferred within a few days to the Centre for Identification and Expulsion (CIE) of Rome. Egyptians and Algerians. Ready to be packed and returned to sender. Walid wanted to escape. Like the other Algerians attempted to do the night of the revolt, on July 29. But it was Boubacar who convinced him otherwise. With the story of paradise and the ties. He usually does not meddle. But when he saw him collapse in tears and heard his confession, he felt compelled to give him sincere advice, as though in front of him sat the son that he never had.

That day, amid sobs, Walid told him what death looks like in the Mediterranean Sea. Because he saw it up close. And from that day he cannot get those images out of his mind. They are images of the bodies spilled out into the sea, on the route between Tripoli and Lampedusa. They were in international waters, far from the possibility of rescue. The boat that preceded them capsized, probably during the night. The corpses were floating all around. Dozens and dozens. Those of the women and children are the hardest to forget.

That day Boubacar convinced him to forget the idea of escape. And to go home. That Europe will always be there, but that he needs his family now. To find peace once again, after looking death in the eye. First on the streets of Tripoli, then in the Mediterranean Sea, and finally in the cages of the CIE in Rome. Where people continue to cut themselves and swallow razor blades and needles to avoid repatriation. And where many continue to take psychotropic drugs as if they were peanuts, to not have to think about the situation they find themselves in.

Trauma of this kind would require listening and care. Even more so if the victim is a boy of just 21 years. But apparently, the Italy of walls prefers the therapy of unrestricted detention in the CIEs. Maybe because they can’t conceive that the young men from the other bank may be fragile and sensitive. After all, that would concede them a modicum of humanity. A name. And all this would be subversive to the definition of ‘illegals’.

For this reason, too, you will not find the name of Walid on the press releases from the Ministry of the Interior. They publish one per week. The last talks of 111 expelled in the first week of August. Numbers, numbers, numbers. Only numbers. There are no names. Because the inmates in CIEs must not have a name and a story.

What would people think if they knew that we treated like the worst of criminals a boy of twenty, still in shock after witnessing the war in Libya and a massacre at sea?

And what would people think if they knew Boubacar, the Algerian man who convinced Walid to return to his family, is about to be deported after spending 30 years in Italy? He, who has a wife out there from whom he is expecting a child?

She is also Italian, but in spite of this they were never able to obtain the documents. All because of that criminal record. An alleged robbery (he still proclaims his innocence) that cost him two years in a juvenile prison. Yes, because when Boubacar arrived in Palermo from Algeria, he was only 17 and the mates he chose, according to him, were not the best. Thirty years have passed since then, and that remains his only criminal precedent. Because despite the experience of prison, which he says was devastating to his growth, Boubacar has since found his way in life. A job, a woman who loves him. And yet he has never managed to come out from life underground.

To sort out his documents he has made a thousand attempts. The last was with the amnesty of 2009, as a caregiver. But each time that criminal precedent gets in the way. And now it’s his wife who is fed up. She, who in the last year has lost both parents, now cannot stand having to also live without her husband. All the more so now that for ten days they have inexplicably prohibited her to meet with him. Perhaps the authorization has been forgotten on the desk of some government employee away on holiday. But go and explain this to a woman who has not been able to embrace her husband for a month.

However she has made her choice. And he shares it in full. Leave Italy, as soon as possible. As soon as this nightmare is over. Sell ​​everything and buy a home in Algeria. Goodbye document inspections. Goodbye racism. Goodbye to the abuse of power just because you have an expired document. Both are fed up. And as for us, how much longer are we are willing to put up with this?

Ps to respect the privacy of our witnesses, and for security reasons, we have used two made-up names

translated by Camilla Gamba