When Italian journalist Imma Vitelli came to last year’s Black Italia dialogue, she discussed the Lampedusa shipwreck that occurred on October 3, 2013. This ship was carrying over 500 refugees and 366 of them, mostly Eritreans, died. She described the trip to Lampedusa as being “a pilgrimage through the heart of Africa’s human smuggling darkness.” Clearly her witnessing this event has manifested in her mind as a horrific memory. Vitelli was very curious as to how some of these migrants were able to survive, so she traveled to Africa to understand the struggle the migrants went through. “I wanted to trace step by step the hellish stations that I would [have to] go through to survive,” Vitelli said at the dialogue, emphasizing her desire to understand the migrants troubles.
Vitelli discussed how hard it is and difficult for migrants to immigrate from one country to another country especially in the rural regions in Africa. Eritrea, a small country on Africa’s northeastern coast, which was once an Italian colony, referred to as “our place in the African sun.” Vitelli learned that for people trying to travel to Europe through northern Africa, once they cross the desert, they cannot turn back. The journey across the desert is too dangerous, and smugglers are their only option for freedom. Vitelli managed to speak to one of the smugglers describing him as being “quite a character.” She described her experience talking to smuggler who she described as smug and unashamed of the crimes he was committing. The smuggler does this job only for the money and told Vitelli that he and the other smugglers “own the country.”
Vitelli recounted what she learned from Eritreans, who described their region as being a prison. At the time, young men were sent to work to the point of exhaustion in labor camps, and it was illegal for them to leave the country. Conflict still exists in this region of Africa and has contributed to a sharp increase in immigration to Europe. Most people have made the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea, and hundreds of people have died since January 2015. Vitelli continues to share the experiences of the Eritreans who go on these dangerous journeys in search of freedom.
Imma Vitelli will be speaking to Amr Adem, who survived the Mediterranean crossing to Lampedusa and subsequently settled in Rome, tonight @ Villa Sassetti at 6 p.m.