Human Face of Immigration

The panel discussion on media representation of immigration in Europe started with a moment of silence to commemorate the tragic events on the Mediterranean last night. Then Lucio Battistotti, Director of the European Commission RiI, took the floor to urge the public to change their perception of immigration ba remembering the positive contributions made by immigrants to their host societies all over the world. europe, he said, is a continent going through an economic crisis ‒ but it also has a rapidly ageing population, and young people coming from other countries can make a positive change.

The moderator of the panel, Luca Attanasio, a journalist specialising on questions of immigration, made a short presentation of the statistics of immigration in Europe, and the wrong way it is perceived by most European citizens. The media often portray groups of migrants as invaders, and this misconception can affect countries’ national policies, like it happened in italy, which in 2009 signed an agreement to send back Libyan refugees crossing the Mediterranean ‒ the agreement that was condemned by Strasbourg, since the refugees were often facing death once sent back. In fact, European is not the world’s leading receivers of refugees, as most of them congregate in countries neighbouring their own ‒ like Pakistan and Lebanon.

Today’s panel, according to the organisers, is unique, since it includes four former asylum seekers, and it was them that took the floor after the moderator. The first to talk was Aws Albayati, a software engineer from Iraq, who fled to Belgium after receiving death threats because of the music he played. He talked about the hardships of integrating into belgian society without the necessary papers, and having to sleep rough, since all the refugee centres were full. His only help, he said, came from a fellow Iraqi immigrant, who gave him shelter.

Suleman Diara, from Mali, serves as an example of positive change in the fate of a refugee, who started as an undocumented worker on an orange farm in Rosarno, but was ousted from the city after participating in protests against exploitation by local businesses. After losing his illegal job, he moved to a shelter in Rome, and helped create an organic yogurt production using traditional recipes from Africa as a way to stop exploitation of other immigrants. The moderator adds that Diara’s project has received a grant from Lazio municipality, and calls the migrants like Diara and Albayati modern Ulysses, whose lives are more interesting than those of average Europeans.

The panel proceeds with the story of Hooshmand Galati Soodabeh, a young woman from Iran, who arrived to Slovenia after crossing Turkey and Greece on foot. Soodabeh’s story is a part of the news book ‘The is a Woman’ by Attanasio.

The recounting of refugees’ stories was followed by a speech by Michele Cherkone, a former spokesman for European Commission, who talked about the importance of creating a common European framework for the treatment of refugees, and of preventing people from becoming refugees in their countries of origin.

The panel then concluded with a passionate talk by Tareke Brhane, an activist from 3 October Committee advocating for the introduction of a Lampedusa commemoration day. A day like that, he said, would serve an important purpose of reminding people in Europe of the fact that asylum seekers are not objects, but live people, who should have equal rights with them.

Daria Sukharchuk