African migrants survive but I wonder at what cost

An African street vendor.
An African street vendor.

As a brief detour from my normally humorous column, I’d like to reflect for a moment on the plight of the unfortunate African migrants in Italy, as this is a topic that’s not only current but also very close to my heart.

You could be led to believe, from recent news reports, that this is a new problem, but in actual fact it’s been an issue for years.

Sadly, the perilous journey across to Lampedusa (and other Mediterranean places) alongside the brutal treatment at the hands of traffickers, is only the beginning of their hellish journey.

Once arrived, many seem to slip through the net and find themselves in towns and cities across Italy where they are met by resentment and kindness in lopsided measure.

Unfortunately these vulnerable people often fall prey to ‘the unscrupulous’ and can frequently be seen selling goods, such as gas lighters and sunglasses, on the streets.

I often wonder what their lives are really like and whether they get to keep any of the small amounts of money they make.

The latter, I doubt very much.

The police turn a blind eye. Everyone does. Tacit silence.

They survive, but at what cost?

Imagine how they must feel leaving families and loved ones behind, not knowing how they are.

When I was in Lecce, seeing African street sellers became a daily part of my life.

I’d purposely fill my pockets with change to give them a Euro as I passed – those desperate, sad, anxious faces.

They got to know me and me them.

We’d smile and exchange greetings.

Of course I knew how it worked, but I really cared about them.

Sometimes I’d give an extra Euro and tell them to keep it for themselves, with a wink; it was heartbreaking.

Some migrants were so young – barely adults.

I also saw stressed out beach sellers in Viareggio, presumably working to some impossible target.

Tell me, how can this be right? How can we help? Their faces haunt me and are just a fraction of the story.

It’s their problem. It’s our problem. It’s humanity’s problem.