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The Journey of Mohammed

The Odyssey of Mohamed, which from South Sudan arrived in Italy, crossing numerous borders, the terrestrial ones of Africa and the Mediterranean that separates it from Italy. Lidia Ginestra Giuffrida reconstructs his reasons, fears, hopes

He has a straight look in front of him, a proud posture, broad shoulders and a smile on her face. Mohamed Abdarassoul Daoud is waiting for the bus at Termini station in Rome. He has to return to the reception center which, since last August, has become his new home. “I haven't seen my parents since 2020 and I really miss my family, especially my mother. As soon as I arrived in Italy, I couldn't contact my parents because in the place where they live the connection is not good."

Mohamed is from South Sudan and arrived in Italy on August 20, 2023, after an odyssey of several years that took him from Sudan to Chad, then from Chad to Libya, through the Libyan desert to Algeria, from Algeria to Morocco, from Morocco back to the Algerian mountains and finally to Tunisia, from where he left for Italy, surviving the dramatic consequences of the outsourcing of European borders. He was present in Tripoli during the eviction of the Gargaresh neighborhood and during protests in front of UNHCR headquarters in October 2021, in Morocco during the Melilla massacre in June 2022, and in Tunisia during deportations by the Saied government.


“I left my homeland, South Sudan, when I was just a child. In 2003, when I was five years old, war broke out. My family and I became refugees in South Chad. We lived in a UNHCR refugee camp. I spent most of my childhood in that field. In 2011 I returned to South Sudan because my uncle was alone and in need of assistance. I spent six years there and then returned to Chad in 2015 because my whole family had remained in the refugee camp,” he says in a firm voice, his hands clasped and his gaze motionless. In Chad, Mohamed completed his education and graduated in history in 2019. “I spent three months looking for work, but for a foreigner it was too difficult to work in Chad. So I decided to head to North Chad, in the desert, and worked in a restaurant for three months. Then the civil war began there too and the Chadian authorities closed the borders, forcing us to Libya.”


Thus, in 2020, Mohamed is forced to embark on the dangerous journey to Libya. “Reaching Libya was very risky and tiring. I was alone, my family had stayed in Chad. We were traveling crammed in trucks, along with many others. I spent eleven days in the desert, from Sabha to Tripoli. I've seen people die of thirst and endure enormous suffering due to lack of water. They made us make several stops where we were forced to work. During these stops, some people were kidnapped and tortured to extort money from their families.” Mohamed describes the kidnappers as armed individuals dressed as civilians. “I couldn't figure out where I was or what was going on.” On the journey through the desert, Mohamed meets many people, but all of them are kidnapped and taken to Bani Walid. “They never came back and I never heard from them.”

Once he arrived in Libya Mohamed worked for a year and three months in the accounting department of a Jordanian food company. He has a house, but at some point the management of the company passes into the hands of a Libyan, who begins to hire only compatriots, firing Mohamed.

“I found myself without a job and without a home. I registered with UNHCR in Tripoli as a refugee. I lived on the street, even though I had documents attesting to my status. The situation was extremely difficult and we had no food. When they cleared the Gargaresh neighborhood on October 3, 2021, the streets filled with refugees, and that's where I met a lot of people, including David Yambio (spokesman for Refugees in Libya). Then we started protesting in front of the UNHCR office. Living on the street was not safe; people were often kidnapped. I've seen many men and women die, people beaten, women giving birth without any medical assistance, children involved in accidents, I was even hit by a car. The protest lasted 3 months and 10 days, and on the tenth day they came to arrest us.”


“People were dying all the time, they were suffering, someone had to talk about what was happening. I cannot tolerate injustice. Even on the journey through the desert I helped a lot of people when I saw them suffer from the cold or the heat. If I can help someone in need, I do. As a child, I've always been forced to deal with problems, maybe that's why I'm so sensitive to injustices. If I see someone suffering or experiencing pain, I feel naturally driven to help.”


“During the dissolution of the protest in front of UNHCR headquarters, the military blocked the way on both sides. It was night, in a moment panic broke out. Majed, one of my best friends, was shot by the police, but fortunately he survived, many others did not have the same luck.” The arrest takes place at eleven in the evening, so many people are not at the garrison, and since it's night, no one can see what happens. “I didn't even realize what was going on. We were all trying to escape, but it was impossible. I saw desperate people crying. We have never heard from many of them. When we got to prison, we were much less.” Mohamed is arrested and taken to Ain Zara Detention Center. “We were locked in a large room with 500 people, including women and children. We had no water and they only gave food once a day. From time to time, they would select someone and make him work, clean the bathrooms or clothes of the prison guards, and if we refused, we would be beaten and put in isolation, it happened to me several times. Some of my friends tried to escape during these jobs, but were shot.” Mohamed spends two or three months in prison, he doesn't remember precisely why he doesn't have a calendar, and his phone is confiscated on the day of his arrest. “During those months, we could not communicate with the other prisoners for fear that we might arrange some form of escape. However, I managed to make friends with Salah. Salah is also from Sudan and my age. He spent a year in prison, and I think he's still in Libya; I hope he's not in there, but I have no way to contact him.”

Mohamed's health condition worsens day by day until UNHCR's almost exclusively Libyan staff, after his repeated and unheard requests for release, finally decide that he must be released.


“In 2022, I was free again and went to Ali, a Chadian boy I met in Libya who worked on a nearby farm. I spent a month with him. I wanted to work but I couldn't because the farm owner didn't allow it. My friend was lucky enough to find a job; but it seemed impossible to me.” Ali is still in Libya, but Mohamed has lost all contact with him. “I had no prospects staying in Libya, I didn't know anyone. My friends Salah and Majed were still in prison. Libya had become hell and, whatever I did, I risked being arrested or killed. I had to hide constantly.” Mohamed then decides to go to Morocco. However, he first tries to work in Algeria, but Algeria, he says, is even more dangerous than Libya. “There you can't rent a house, find a job or rent a car. I was there for a month. Then I went to Morocco.”

In Morocco, Mohamed manages to obtain refugee status but the Moroccan authorities reject him anyway. He then seeks flight to Spain and does so on the day of the Melilla massacre, June 24, 2022. A tragedy that causes 37 deaths, in which the Spanish military shoots at migrants trying to cross the border wall between Morocco and Spain. One of the massacres that caused the most deaths on the land border between the European Union and the Maghreb.

Mohamed passes the test and manages to climb over the wall, but the Spanish police still reject him back in Morocco. The Moroccan authorities outside the country.


After Morocco, Mohamed returns to Algeria where he stays for about three months. He lives in the mountains because he is not allowed to stay in the city. “We used to go down to the city just to get food or water. After three months, I took a train, paid for the ticket and also paid for the Algerian military because they usually don't allow black people to board the trains.”


“Once I got to Tunisia, I walked for 15 days on foot because we couldn't take the bus, all the way to Sfax. I realized that my life in Arab countries would be impossible, so I thought I would cross the sea to reach Europe. I met people from Ivory Coast and realized that they were planning to leave. They told me to find other people to take with me, and that I could get on the boat for free. I didn't have the money to pay for the trip.” Mohamed doesn't know exactly where he's going, he doesn't have a plan, but crossing the Mediterranean seems like his only chance. “I spent a month in Sfax, sleeping on the street and waiting to leave. Tunisia is hell. Blacks are beaten and deported to the desert, they are sought house by house by the military but also by normal people. It was bad but then, in the end, I left.”


“We spent two days at sea, and we had very little water, just a bottle for the children and women. I was afraid; I had never seen the sea before. Chad does not have the sea. I got on the boat at night, and in the morning, when I saw nothing but the sea around me, I was shocked. I was so scared! I was asking where Lampedusa was, when we were going to arrive, I thought I was dying." In the small boat with Mohamed there are 45 other people, including seven women and three children. “When they came to help us, I was very happy because I was still alive. On August 20, 2023 I finally arrived in Italy. I spent two days in the reception center of Lampedusa, then five more in Calabria, and now I live in a reception center in Rome. The people here in Italy were very nice to me.”


Mohammed still doesn't know what the future holds for him: “I can't plan my future right now. Many things are changing quickly. So, for now, I just think that I want to be in a safe place, and if Italy provides me with documents, I will work here to support my family. If they are well in the refugee camp, I will send them money; if they are not well, I will try to bring them here or find another safe place for them. In any case, I imagine a future that is finally different from what I have experienced so far. At least, that's what I hope for.” He stops, smiles and for the first time his voice trembles: “I want to help people who are still fighting for their freedom. Assisting the people I left; I want to fight for them; they need help. Seeing people suffer and die and not feel anything is not normal. I don't feel good if I see people who are not happy or who need help. I want to give meaning to the suffering of these people. Maybe that's just what I'd like to do here!” He concludes his story in the same position in which he started it. Then he gets up, unties his legs, looks at the time. Now it's time to go back to the center.


The photos are from the author. On the cover Mohammed. In the article Mohammed with David Yambio, spokesman for Refugees in Libya. The two have re-evered in Rome.

Article by: LIDIA GINESTRA GIUFFRIDA , published on Open Migration.

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