Saturday, April 16, 2011
Witness - Witness - Shukri: A New Life
hirty-one-year old Shukri left her four children in Somalia in 2008, walked across North Africa and risked a hazardous raft trip across the Mediterranean to seek a better life in Europe.
She is one of thousands of such migrants who attempt the journey each year and although she has been given refugee status in Italy her future still looks bleak.
Filmmaker Rossella Schillaci followed Shukri and in the following account describes the realities of her life - and those of thousands of others.
In the winter of 2008, over 400 Somali and Sudanese refugees squatted in an abandoned building that had once housed a medical clinic in downtown Turin, northern Italy.
The Italian government's indifference towards refugees left them with little alternative. Once refugees are issued a sojourn permit, they are left to fend for themselves, with just a few receiving temporary housing and education. Many rely on Catholic volunteer relief associations for help, but these cannot provide housing and the waiting lists for dormitories seem endless.
Many refugees live and sleep on the streets. In larger cities, they squat in old buildings or abandoned factories, enduring overcrowded and grim living conditions often without water or electricity.
A better life
Like Shukri, Hindiyo left her family behind in Somalia
Shukri lives on the second floor of the abandoned medical clinic in Turin. There is no heating, one water tap for every 80 people, and the squatters rely on local charities for food.
Like her housemates, she arrived in Italy after crossing the Sahara and the Mediterranean with the dream of building a better life in Europe.
She decided to make the dangerous journey to escape war-torn Somalia, where life seemed impossible.
So in February 2008, after divorcing her husband, Shukri left her four children with her mother and headed to Ethiopia.
She eventually travelled to Italy by boat - or as she describes it, by balloon; a rubber raft so worn out that it could be punctured by a fingernail. She knew the journey would be a matter of life and death and the vastness of the sea scared her when she was about to embark in Tripoli. But still she had to go.
When she was in Somalia she believed - like many others - that Italy was one of the most beautiful places in the world. She had heard stories of other Somali women finding work there that had enabled them to support their families back home and even to buy houses.
But soon after arriving she realised that life in Italy was not as she had imagined. She had wanted to work and be independent so that she could build a decent life that would enable her to support her family. Instead she was forced to live on subsidies.
She learned Italian and trained as a care-giver because she had been told that it would be easy to find work caring for the elderly or disabled.
Shortly after arriving in Turin, Shukri became friends with Hindiyo, another Somali woman who had also left her family behind. They became like sisters, living together and sharing everything.
Hindiyo often thought about her hungry children and sick parents back in Somalia and felt guilty that she had not been able to send money home as she promised. The guilt was so bad that she often could not sleep at night.
Against the odds
Shukri expected it to be much easier to start a new life in Italy
Now, after two years little has changed. 'Emergency' measures rather than longer-term solutions are still employed to deal with the refugees.
Many refugees have "escaped" Italy in search of a better life in other European countries, although they know that if the authorities elsewhere discover that their fingerprints were taken in Italy they will be sent back.
After having temporary jobs as caregivers in a small mountain village where they were the only Muslims, Shukri and Hindiyo are again without work.
When they were working they had been able to send money home but that has stopped now. Their families are disappointed and find it hard to believe that life in Italy could really be so hard.
But Shukri and Hindiyo are not giving up. They are still looking for work and hoping to build better lives. Shukri has realised that she cannot expect to get an office job, but now it is hard to get even a caregiver job as people are asking for driving licenses and a car.
With the ongoing war in Somalia, Shukri doubts that she will ever return and hopes to find a permanent job that will help her save her children and mother.