ROME — Italy is a slender peninsula ringed by 4,722 miles of coastline, a blessing that brings thousands of Italians to the sea each August for Ferragosto, the country’s summer vacation period. The coastline — one of the longest in the world — has also been attracting boats full of refugees and migrants, in numbers now reaching crisis proportions. The people come from Africa and the Middle East (via Africa), enticed by a vague hope that Europe offers promise and a future. The summer weather — with its warmer temperatures and calmer seas — causes an increase in the boat traffic.
Indeed, 90,000 people have landed illegally in Italy so far this year, looking to surpass 170,000 recorded refugees in 2014, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
The sea becomes the dividing line between two distinct phases of a difficult journey but is perilous in itself. Yet the caprice of the Mediterranean and the uncertainty of the European segment tend to seem negligible to people who have commonly encountered physical abuse, sexual abuse and atrocious conditions throughout the first segment, in northern Africa.
One migrant who was staying temporarily at the Red Cross camp in Rome (who did not want to speak on camera) said that his journey just to the coastline of Libya took him eight months to go from Eritrea to Sudan and finally to Libya. Smugglers who governed the migrants’ route subjected them to starving conditions, unclean and unsafe detention centers and beatings.
So, now on the other side of the sea border, in Italy, a new journey begins, with its own challenges and its own defining uncertainties. Once people land, get processed and receive medical care — in places like Lampedusa, a tiny island halfway from Libya to Sicily, or Pozzallo, one of the southernmost cities in Sicily — the next step of their trek starts.
With the Italian government and the rest of the European Union still refusing to come up with a comprehensive solution equal to the magnitude of the situation, a patchwork of services is springing up along the migrants’ pathways to welcome people after their arduous voyage.
This short video, filmed in Rome in July 2015, conveys just how precarious the situation is for everyone involved and how it will continue that way for the foreseeable future.
Maria Luisa Gambale, a graduate of Harvard University, lives in New York City. In addition to writing, she produces film and media projects and is director of the 2011 film “Sarabah,” about the Senegalese rapper-activist Sister Fa. She has produced and directed video for National Geographic, ABC News, The New York Times and Fusion Network. Gambale’s work in all media can be viewed at www.veradonnafilms.com.