Enos Nolli’s apartment in Mineo, Sicily resembles a huge walk-in wardrobe. Shelves reach up to the ceiling holding stacks of dresses, t-shirts, jackets, coats and shoes – all donations for refugees. Enos Nolli is the head of the “Gioventù in Missione” (GiM) organization. He drives to Sicily’s refugee camps and brings many of the people in need there to Mineo, so they can choose some clothing for themselves.
Because of its geographical position, Sicily is often the first land that many refugee boats reach on their way to Europe. The refugees arrive in masses on ramshackle ships that are far too small for their number of passengers. In their desperation, they have signed agreements with traffickers, who transport them to Europe illegally and at great risk and cost to the refugees. The boats are terribly overcrowded, and the refugees generally have to leave any luggage behind. They come only with what they are wearing.
For a long time already, the reception camps in Sicily have not been able to cope with the constant flow of refugees. The camps are overfilled, which means that many new arrivals cannot even be taken on. This is also true of the camp in Mineo. This reception camp only has space for 2000 people, but already at the start of 2014 there were 4000 refugees accommodated there. Life in the camp is cramped and uncomfortable.
Nolli and his staff visit the refugees often. They talk and eat with them, listen to their problems and try to find solutions. Nolli rented the apartment in Mineo because so many of the refugees lacked clothing, shoes, blankets, tents and flashlights. There he takes on donations of clothing and other things from charities. The German organizations “humedica” and “Jugend mit einer Mission” regularly send sleeping bags, blankets, shoes and bibles in Tirgrinya, a language that is mainly spoken in Eritrea.
The refugees like to come to the Mineo apartment: They rummage around in the donated clothing and pick out what they need; use the Internet to inform their families at home that they are ok; find out what rights they have as refugees in Italy, and all in all try to find out what to do next.
Many of the refugees were highly respected people in their homeland, with good professions, high incomes and nice homes. They fled because they were subject to political persecution there. Most of them lived in fear of their lives. They hoped for a better life in Europe, a safe place to live and a job as soon as possible. But many are very disappointed when they arrive in Sicily. They are kept in the camps for months with an allowance of EUR 2.50 a day. Only a very select few ever obtain a work permit, and without one it is virtually impossible to get a job. Even many of the Italians here are unemployed. The refugees are frustrated. Here, where the dream of a safe new life was supposed to begin they feel abandoned and without any prospects for a future.
Nolli and his team fight this disappointment every day. They hold counseling sessions and help the refugees orientate themselves in the new country. They explain their options to them. Often even just a sympathetic talk can give the refugees some hope. Nolli wants to persuade the people who live in the region to give the refugees Italian lessons. Perhaps, he thinks, it may build them a bridge to a more normal life in Italy.
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