African migrants risk death in the Mediterranean to come to Europe. What keeps them coming?by Ismail Einashe / April 27, 2015 / Leave a comment
Rome’s Termini Station is one of Europe’s busiest railway stations. The modernist edifice bustles with tourists, Roma children selling cigarette lighters, Bangladeshi vendors selling cheap plastic gadgets and Italians going about their daily grind. At the edge of this swirl of activity African men gather in groups or sit alone smoking. Most of them are Eritreans, Somalis or Gambians. It’s easy to ignore them. But spend a little time at Termini, and a hidden parallel world comes into view—full of stories of survival and hope.
Italy is Europe’s migrant bottleneck. The central Mediterranean migration route is deadly: in 2014, 2,447 people died trying to cross it, and so far this year has seen 1,710 deaths. Eighty six per cent of this year’s victims came from sub-Saharan Africa. Italy is barely coping with the crisis engulfing its shores. Last week 800 migrants are feared to have drowned after their boat capsized in Libyan waters, just south of Lampedusa. The International Organisation of Migration believes that if the current rate continues then the number of deaths in the Mediterranean could reach 30,000.
Many of those who make it to Europe end up marooned in places such as the Rome Termini—making endless plans to escape but always getting sent back. I spoke to Ugaas, a 21-year-old from Somalia, who is a former market-stall owner who sold shoes. He earned about $50 a month and appears to have had a decent life, but he told me that he wanted more. When he told his mother of his plans to leave, she begged him not to go. One day, without telling his family, he left with friends for Ethiopia. He tells me that “about 300 people I know have come to Europe” from his city of Hargeisa. He knew little about Europe except that his sister was in Norway. She had arrived there illegally in 2004 but has since managed to secure Norwegian citizenship. On Facebook he trawled groups where young migrants who had made it to Europe shared stories and knowledge. Inspired by them, he embarked on a dangerous journey.
In April 2013, Ugaas travelled from Ethiopia via Sudan to the Libyan border where Libyan people-smugglers lay waiting for him. They drove…