Sguardi sui ragazzi Harraga, photo essay by Studio 14 Photo
We are the four founders of STUDIO14 Photo. Hearing of the never ending news about migration and even taking care of reportage we decided to give a contribution to this very topical issue. We knew that CIAI Ong was working on a project called “Boys Harraga – social inclusion processes for unaccompanied migrant children in the city of Palermo” so we offered them our willingness that had been embraced with enthusiasm. We then started to shoot a story in Palermo on the growing problem of underage migrants, a very sensitive issue.
Under the law, all foreign minors in our Country without the protection of an adult, cannot be deported. Once landed on the Italian coast minors are assigned to temporary accommodation centers (managed by Home Office -Ministero dell’Interno) where they deal with the identification, medical visits and their basic needs. The numbers are becoming higher and this right is increasingly difficult to ensure. The situation is very delicate and complex and the material or regulatory instruments often hinder the word “emergency.”
To fully understand this project we tried not to be influenced by information heard from the media, from the last reports or stories in order to deeply feel this experience. We are hopeful that our project could be a useful tool to understand the facts in a more concrete way.
To move through the associations and the boys without being intrusive we worked in pairs of two photographers. In fact, we tried to interact with the kids and only after getting closer we started collecting stories and shooting.
We visited three different associations which operate in the area of Palermo, having first a conversation with educators and professionals and then with minors. Initially the boys were a bit detached but after several attempts of approach a great harmony occurred. Some of them showed us the house and told how they live in the association and in the city.
Some of them told us how they arrived in Italy and why: the motivations are different, their words tell stories that we cannot imagine in our social context. The only common denominator is the embarkation Country, Libya. The boys are of different ethnic groups, in the West it is thought that the war in Syria is a pretext to facilitate immigration to Europe and Italy in search of a better life.
The war has created a hopelessness channel, by including in our country populations and people of many different backgrounds.
The tales learned by young people and educators report different stories. Some arrive as refugees from dictatorial persecution, others from very poor lands where it is difficult to let grow the seed of hope, others flee the Country because they are alone.
Unfortunately they don’t escape only from war, they get away from burned villages, from extreme poverty where mothers are forced to sacrifice one of their children in the name of salvation according to sorcerers’ prophecies and local beliefs.
The trips last months, in some cases even two years. When they arrive in Libya they are forced to work as slaves to pay for their trip. They must work and cannot get out, Libya is a Country that they cannot see, it is prohibited. When the organizers of the landings consider them sufficiently exploited, they embark them. Once arrived in Libya they can no longer change their minds and come back home.
The boys are greeted by the associations who are concerned about their care by providing them Italian classes, professional courses, giving them rules for harmonious coexistence so that they can find a more easy integration in a different culture.
In addition to the photographic work within the association we organized a trip to the beach. It was exciting to see the boys comfortable on the shore after a grueling journey that has marked them forever. On the beach we appreciated how people seemed to be friendly with these guys. We have been impressed by the good manners and civilization that these boys shown during our stay.
This experience added something in the baggage of our lives: an unforgettable memory from social and human point of view. The day before our departure from Milan we did not know what awaited us in Palermo, the wonder of being close to these guys made us even move. In some situations a colleague hid his emotion behind the dark lenses of his glasses.
We would like to thank all those who have enabled us to achieve this reportage. We thank the Department of Social Citizenship of the City of Palermo, the Rainbow, Mediterranean and Stellaria associations. A special thanks to Frank Silva the local director of CIAI ONG who deals with this project with the help of the other associations.
(by Marco Sartori)