Living in Rome
Since I moved back to Rome, a few months ago now, I have noticed a substantial increase of young African men begging in the street. They were not there when I lived in Rome some five years ago. The African presence in the streets of Rome was mainly represented by Senegalese men selling counterfeit handbags (who are still there making business from selling fake Gucci and Prada bags to tourists).
Now whenever I go to my local market, the town hall, the doctor, or any other shop, there will be a young African man standing at the door, asking for help. I usually stop to have a chat, asking them about their own personal story. Most of the people I have spoken to come from Edo State in Nigeria, an inland State east of Lagos, where, according to Wikipedia, many ethnicities cohabit, among them the Edo, Okpe, Esan, Afemai, Ora, Akoko-Edo, Igbanke, Emai and Ijaw. They all say the same: they have left their country for political and economic reasons. One of them in particular, Wilson, told me that his life was in danger because he had expressed his opposition to the local government and the rigged elections in Edo State. He doesn’t have a family of his own yet, he is just hoping to find a job and live a peaceful life in Europe. “I don’t want to live in fear anymore,” he said. Other migrants have left their young families behind and are hoping to bring them over one day. Some want to stay in Italy, others have plans to move to Scandinavia where there are more job opportunities. “I am waiting to bring my wife and child here so we can move to Sweden and find work there,” said Festus, another Nigerian migrant from Edo State. “I can’t find work here, I am Black, nobody is giving me a job.” The situation of Nigerian nationals in Italy is even harder because they do not have refugee status. They are considered as economic migrants even if they are fleeing political instability as well as economic hardship. They struggle to become legal because their country is not on the priority list.
Most refugees live in a camp in Castelnuovo di Porto, a small suburban town, north of Rome. “We’re in a big town building, a bit like this one [pointing at a 1920s apartment block in the Prati neighbourhood], we are sharing rooms and meals with the other guys,” Wilson told me. In the morning, they take the regional train to Rome where they spend their day on the street, looking for odd work. They also told me that they receive some support in the form of legal aid and language tuition provided, I assume, by local associations.