Just hours before I departed from JFK, I was put in contact with a a documentary film maker named Filippo. He and his wife had just completed the first portion of a UN sponsored documentary on the plight of African asylum seekers. Having done an exceptional amount of research, Filippo offered me loads of up to date info to aid me on my mission.
He explained to me that since the capsizing and drowning of 360 people off the coast of Lampedusa (Italy’s southern most island) in 2013, the EU and Italy had revised their policies. Immigrant boats were now being rescued if they were within territorial waters of any member state. This was being done by a joint Italian and Maltese naval force entitled FRONTEX, under operation “Mare Nostrum.”
He also explained that the facility on Lampedusa had begun renovations and so boats were now taken to one of four main immigration processing centers in Sicily; Augusta, Siracusa, Pozallo, or Agrigento.
This was good news as all of these cities were within an hour bus ride from my arrival city of Catania.
However, Filippo told me another piece of vital information concerning the recent Dublin II Regulation. A regulation that states that asylum seekers over age 18 must be processed in the country they land in.
As a result, my new mission is to locate these immigration facilities, find “Champion” and get him out before they fingerprint him and start the asylum process in Italty.
If I’m unable to reach him in time, he won’t be eligible for asylum in Sweden or Norway, two countries that provide exceptional services for Eritrean asylum seekers. And two countries that “Champion” has had his heart set on from the get go.
But I will get to him in time. And I will escort “Champion” to Scandinavia.
I landed in Catania, walked past loads of surprisingly pretty prostitutes dancing on the street, ate some stellar pizza, found a hostel for 24 Euros and crashed.
Jet lagged, I woke up early and took a bus to Augusta for 4 Euros. The bus driver dropped me right outside of the immigration center where at least 50 Africans were just sitting around.
I slowly but confidently walked over, smiled big, and began the search. I asked everyone if they had heard of “Champion” and even showed them a picture of him. A few Eritreans thought they recognized him but I wasn’t sure if they were just trying to appease me or if they really had seen him.
After speaking with a guy from Gambia, I heard that the Eritreans and Egyptians had got in a fight the day before and were sent to different cities. Too exhausted to continue I found the cheapest hotel in Augusta, 60 Euros, and passed out.
I returned to the immigration facility with hopes of finding out where they took the Eritreans. This time I went inside in search of the director. When I entered I immediately noticed an awful stench of unwashed clothes and bodies. I looked into the gymnasium sized rooms to find hundreds of rows of cots and kids as young as 12.
When I finally found the director he said, “Bambino” and pointed at the kids, followed by “Siracusa, grande, major.” Though it took me a minute, I realized that he trying to tell me that there was a facility for adults in Siracusa.
I arrived in Siracusa and met a Somalian named Rasta. He told me to take bus 12 to the immigration center for new arrivals. When I got there I was relieved to find friendly english speaking aid workers. I gave them “Champion’s” name and they checked the list. To my disappointment, he wasn’t on any list and no one had seen him. Defeated, I made my way back into town and to a hostel.
Today – Conclusion
Now I’m here at Lol Hostel in Siracusa trying to figure out what to do next. No one has heard from “Champion” and I’m beginning to worry and to think the unthinkable. I’m exhausted, dirty, and have hardly eaten anything over the past 4 days. Tomorrow I’m going to take a break, eat good Sicilian food, recoup and leisurely explore this city.
Check out the video below to see how my search went.