By Michelle Hough, communications officer with Caritas Internationalis
When I was 5 years old, my dad went to work in Nigeria for a year. He mended big earth moving machines, and there were very few jobs in this line in England in the late 1970s. He could have either stayed in the UK, where he would have been unemployed and unable to support his family, or go to Africa.
In the 1930s my dad’s parents left an impoverished Ireland to find work in London. Twenty years before that, my maternal great grandfather left Ireland to go and work in the Welsh coal mines.
And me? Well, I’ve now been living and working in Rome for almost 13 years.
It was with these thoughts of my immigrant roots that I came out of the cinema last night after watching the documentary “Come un uomo sulla terra” (Like a man on Earth), which was supported by Caritas Italiana and other NGOs.
In the film, migrants living in Rome told the story of how they left the Horn of Africa to find a safer and more prosperous life in Europe. To do this, they crossed deserts, crammed into trucks and sweltering containers; they suffered violence at the hands of traffickers; they were put in prison and had to pay to get out, to then only find themselves in prison again. The prisons, in Libya and Sudan, were places where they were abused, where they had very little water, food or medicines and where international bodies didn’t seem to venture.
Dag, the narrator of the film was a law student in Ethiopia. He left because of the political oppression in the country. After a difficult journey across the Sahara during which he was imprisoned, he arrived in Rome where he studied Italian and film-making techniques and collaborated on the documentary at the Asinitas Onlus school where he’s studying.
Italy is cracking down on undocumented migration. It is stopping migrants in their tracks and collaborating with Libya to keep them there. Libya isn’t a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and doesn’t currently have an asylum law.
At one point in the film Dag says that when he was little, he had a cat who had kittens. She ate the weakest and most sickly kitten so the others could feed and survive. He compared this to how African migrants are being treated by places such as Italy.
Caritas works around the world to help migrants with housing, food clothing, jobs, legal and psychological support. The interviews I have done for Caritas with migrants and people who work with them all tell the same story: of people who leave their countries, where they are in difficulty, in search of a better and more prosperous life for themselves and their children. A bit like my father, my grandfather and my great grandfather.
Learn more about Un uomo sulla terra.
In some countries, Caritas raises awareness about the dangers of undocumented migration and assists people so they remain in their own country rather than seeking work abroad. Read about Caritas Senegal’s work in this field.