A tragedy within the tragedy of migration to Italy

This story, if confirmed, is a tragedy within the tragedy of migration to Italy, which sees tens of thousands of migrants and refugees risk death by drowning every year during the perilous sea crossing from north Africa only to face loneliness and destitution once they have arrived.

Modou Sarr, a 37-year-old from Gambia, set fire to a car at a petrol station in San Tammaro in the southern Campania region while the driver was refuelling in order to get himself arrested, according to an Ansa news agency report.

He allegedly told police he was destitute and wanted to spend Christmas in prison where food and lodging would be guaranteed, rather than on the hostile streets of the Camorra-mafia dominated Caserta province.

Of course I know nothing about this man or his story – when and how he arrived in Italy, whether he has legal documents, what he has done and how he has been assisted up till now.

However, my guess is that he has been a victim of the unstable and exploitative labour market in the Caserta area based largely on temporary seasonal work in agriculture and tourism, which many migrants to Italy see as a stepping stone to seeking more stable employment further north.

It may be that he entered the country illegally or came in on a legal migrant quota but subsequently fell foul of Italy’s rigid immigration laws.

Or, as a Gambian national, it could be that he applied for some form of international protection and then slipped through the net.

In any event, chances are that after his scheduled fast-track trial – and maybe Christmas spent in the warm and dry of a prison cell – he will be sent back to where he came from, only to begin his odyssey all over again.


2 thoughts on “A tragedy within the tragedy of migration to Italy

  1. I dunno why, but this tragedy made me think of another tragedy happened few years ago. Adam Kabobo, a ghost that killed three persons in Milano. My mind jumped to this other story by thinking to the desperate isolation that most of the refugees feel every day, every hour for months, years. Ending up turning crazy and, potentially, violent. The psychological support of people the suffered sufferance impossible to imagine is almost nothing.


    1. How right you are, Andrea. You only have to meet the gaze of the lonely souls from the reception centre for asylum seekers (CARA) in Castelnuovo di Porto who spend their days in Monterotondo rummaging through rubbish bins or begging outside bars to realize how traumatized many of them are. The light has gone out in their eyes. Italy prides itself on making rescue at sea a cornerstone of its migration policy (even though for the record it must be said that the Mare Nostrum humanitarian search and rescue operation launched by the Letta government after the Lampedusa tragedy in October 2013 has been terminated by the Renzi government and replaced by a smaller EU Frontex mission focusing on security and border control), but this by itself is not enough if the migrants and refugees who arrive on its shores are then herded around the country like cattle, made to live in inhumane conditions and generally abandoned to themselves while their asylum applications are being processed (a process that can take months, if not years). There is no easy solution, I know, and thankfully at grass-roots level there are many individuals and organizations that strive to ‘fill in the gaps’ as best they can with quality assistance and support. But certainly on the national and European level, seeing migrants and refugees less as numbers to be managed than as people to be received would be half the battle.
      Here is a link to the testimony of an Afghan refugee who found kindness and support at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Centre in Rome.

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