Visit to the exhibition "Faces to the future - with refugees for a new us" organized by Centro Astalli in Rome
A few days ago I visited the exhibition "Faces to the future - with refugees for a new us" organized by Centro Astalli in Rome who took place in the church of Sant'Andrea in Quirinale. The exhibition is set up with circular panels showing photos of men and women who arrived as refugees and now live in Italy. They tell, in their own words, about their experiences in their homelands, during their journeys and in Italy.
Centro Astalli is a support point for people who arrive in Italy after exhausting and often dangerous journeys and after having experienced, very often, serious episodes of abuse and violence. The exhibition was set up to celebrate the 40 years of activity of the center. The photos were taken by Francesco Malavolta, who has already immortalized images of migrants in many countries around the world. The people photographed are twenty, young and old, recently arrived or who have already made a new life for themselves in Italy, but always with hard work and often with pain, with nostalgia for their homeland and for their family.
The impression I got is that the purpose of this exhibition is to bring people closer to refugees so that they can get a better idea of what men and women forced to flee their countries have had to face, but also to learn more about the difficulties of integrating in a new country. Refugees, then, are a source of inspiration and courage and have stories and traditions that we can learn more about and celebrate.
In a world increasingly marked by division and individualism, I find initiatives like this extremely important to remember that we are all one, and that only by walking together we will be able to save this adrift planet of ours, and create a world where everyone will have access to the same rights.
The Taliban destroyed the school where I was teaching English to children. I ran away because a teacher who cannot teach is dead even when he is alive. Now I am safe in Italy, but my family is stuck there. All my efforts are to try to get my brothers who are in danger of dying here.
I was a boy when I left Mogadishu. I became an adult on the road. I crossed the Mediterranean on a boat, many of those who were with me died at sea. The future is here, where I am free to live my life without fear of being tortured or killed.
I fled the war in Kosovo when I was just a boy. I made the journey alone. Here in Italy I was welcomed and protected. Today I am the father of two boys, and for them, more than anything else, I wish that they will never have to go through what I had to endure.
When I think about my life, the most important lesson I have received is that until the sun dies and everything around it is completely dark, you cannot lose hope that the stars will shine again.
Centro Astalli is the Italian branch of the Jesuit Refugee Service - JRS. For 40 years it has been carrying out activities and services aimed at accompanying, serving and defending the rights of those who arrive in Italy fleeing from war and violence, not infrequently from torture. Centro Astalli is also committed to letting the public know who refugees are, their stories and the reasons that brought them here.
Book title: Know Your Rights (And Claim Them): A Guide for Youth
Authors: Amnesty International, Angelina Jolie, Geraldine Van Bueren QC
Publisher: Andersen Press
Book review: This isn't just a book but an actual tool that can actually empower young people around the world to know and claim their rights. You are free not to read the book from start to finish, as you'd do with a regular one, but you can skip sections and only focus on those parts who are of interest to you.
The book is conveniently divided into section and there a few major ones. Those sections tackle all children rights and give the readers an insight into how the law should protect them and their rights and how things are in reality. It is obvious most of the time governments don't uphold some or all those rights. The book also includes stories of real young people from different countries who are making or have made a difference in the place they live or in the world.
The words used can sometimes be hard to understand especially for young people living in refugee camps or who, in general, didn't have or don't have access to a good education. The authors have done their best to explain all the difficult words (there is a whole part dedicate to that at the end of the book) and to make the text easier to read thanks to boxes etc. I think that is very important for adults to read this book as well and to use it as a starting point to empower children and young people in their lives about knowing and claiming their rights (their own kids, pupils etc). These adults can eventually break down the book or the sections and use simpler words, if that is the case. I will surely be doing that and using the book as a starting point to teach kids about their human rights as I'll be travelling the world.
Then, why didn't I give it 5 stars? Because, as I was expecting, the book doesn't include children and young poeple living with life-threatining illnesses. Yes, it sometimes mention disability, hospitals or sick kids, but disability doesn't necessarly mean living with a life-threatining illness and, as I've said, these are nothing more than mentions. The amount of information provided about all the topics doesn't really include young people who are forced to stay in hospital for a long time, or who may be at home but being so sick to be unable to get out of bed. I run my own charity to support young people with cancer and when I've heard the book was in the making I contacted Amnesty, because I was afraid they wouldn't include these young people, they have been very kind but in the end they didn't include those young people. Which are a young person's rights about deciding about their own death? And what if parents/doctors don't want them to know what is really going on? These are just the first two examples who came to my mind. It's like, and this sadly often happens, these young people are not really included until they get at least a little better, and to me that is wrong.
That being said, I strongly encourage anyone to read this book, regardless of your age, where your live and so on. It doesn't offer all the answers, but it does its best to point you in the right direction. I think this book is much needed, especially at this time with so much going on in the world. This can actually be a powerful tool to encourage more young people to get into activism and to possibly save lives. Knowing our own rights, and the rights of others, is the first step to fight for them. I congratulate all the authors for this much needed tool, and I can only imagine the effort in bringing this to life. I hope many countries will translate it and provide the book to as many of their young people as possible.
Getting a bit deeper: I approached this book knowing I didn't know much about childrens' rights. I work as a writer with a strong focus on social issues, and in my heart I know we all should have access to human rights, including children and young people, yet I wouldn't have been able to list all the childrens' rights or to guide any young person on actually claiming them so this book has been very useful and I think it'll be for many people. If you want to learn more about childrens' rights, you can read and download The Convention on The Rights of The Child or you can enroll in this free online course provided by Amnesty International, "An Introduction to Child Rights". You can see all the other online courses provided by Amnesty Human Rights Acadamy here.
Today, 8/16/2021, Taliban has taken over Kabul and has become in power in Afghanistan (again). They say this time things will be different yet we are already seeing photos and videos of masses of people fleeding, or hoping to fleed, Afghanistan scared for their own lives and those of the people they love. We have seen dead bodies, wounded bodies, including those of young people and children. Women and girls have already shared their fears and what they have to renounce to such as jobs, education and human rights.
I live in Tuscany, Italy, and we're right in the middle of summer right now. I spend a couple of hours every afternoon at the beach. I go there alone, and I enjoy spending time with myself. This means I take the bus alone, I walk alone from the last bus stop to the beach, if I meet somone I know they stop and say "hi" or ask me how I am doing and we end up chatting regardless of the fact that they are men or women. I usually wear trousers, a t-shirt and nothing to cover my head. I reach the beach. I wear a bikini. I swim in the sea. I talk with the people around me. I eat something and read a book. I listen to the music I like. I usually take the bikini top off when it's wet and just wear a t-shirt. I go back to the bus stop. I talk with another woman who waits the bus with me. I travel on the bus. I reach home. I spend much time alone at home when my family members are at work.
If I were an Afghan woman today I couldn't do most of these things. Some men called Taliban would ask me, sorry, force me, to cover my whole body and head up with a burqua. I work as a writer, copywriter and ghost writer and mostly use my passion for writing to speak my own truth and to support social causes. If I were an Afghan woman today, I probably would be seriously afraid of having to give my job up and I love my job, I've worked hard to get here, yet I feel it's not as much as any woman in Afghanistan must have worked hard to get to her job or school place.
Afghan women had to fight hard to get their basic human rights, something - we should remember - women and girls shouldn't be granted, because it's something that belongs to them, as well as to any boy or man, at the moment of birth. Yet we all know in some countries around the world women must fight really hard to get rights we often take for granted.
We all are following what is happening in Afghanistan, and I sometimes find myself stepping out of the bigger picture and wondering what I'd do and feel if I were an Afghan woman.
Women and girls were banned from various things from 1996 to 2001:
Banned from studying
Banned from working
Banned from leaving house without male chaperone
Banned from showing any skin in public
Banned from healthcare
Banned from politics
Banned from speaking out to an audience.
I ask any woman, or even better, any human being, currently reading this to try to picture their daily life adjusting to those conditions. It wouldn't simply be possible to go on with our daily lives. We'd end up sacrificing something, even because punishment for not obeying to any of these laws was immediate and could have been carried out by any Taliban, usually in the street were a crowd, often an all-men crowd, could see the punishment. A girl who tried to study or whose skin was exposed, even just a little bit, could have been flogged but other atrocities were rapes, forced marriage and abduction.
Lately, we all have heard about the request from Taliban leaders to have lists of girls over the age of 15 and widows under the age of 45, for "marriage" with Taliban. I'm 36 years old. If I were an Afghan woman today, my name would be on one of those lists.
Taliban also seem to be determined to ban girls over the age of 12 from getting an education. We're talking about entire generations of girls and women which will never have the tools to get a jobs and to defend their own selves. Women may also end up being banned from empolyment and it seems Taliban are also determined to reinstate the law who allowed women to get out only if chaperoned by an adult male.
It all may seem distant sometimes, like something terrible who is happening to people far away from where we live, something we sadly are getting used to due to the high number of wars and humanitarian crises as well as human rights violations all across the world, but I think trying to pur ourselves into the shoes of others and imagining our daily lives as well as our dreams, hopes and goals for the future as if we were living in Afghanistan in this very moment, could help us understand this is not only about wars and bombs. Taliban taking over Afghanistan again is already having an impact on the daily lives of many people, most of them forced to flee their region or even their country, or desperately wishing to do so.
Imagine how your daily life, your future, would be affected if you were an Afghan woman today.
Images are taken from Google. Rights belong to their owners.
On Thursday July 15th, Italy has approved the renewal of funding toward Libya's coast guard. Italy is my home country. I am so proud of being Italian on many occasions, but when something like this happen, how could I - and many others like me - be proud?
It's not like decisions maker don't know what happens to people who flee from their countries. We all know that. We all have seen photos and videos. Journalists and media have talked about what happens in those detention camps. This decision has been made despite the fact that we all know. Decision makers have decided to stand with Libya's coast guard despite the fact that this means violating human rights on a daily basis.
The majority of the Chamber of Deputies approved renewed funding for a training program for Libya's coast guard as well as other Italian military missions abroad. Amnesty International has released a report which describes abuses perpetreted against refugees and migrants in Libya's detention camps. Let's not even talk about the fact that today, in 2021, there still are such detention camps. What's really outrageous is, again, how much we know and how little we do. Many people have taken to the streets to show their dissent yet many Italian coalition governments have supported the Libyan coast guard hoping to stop the arrival of people from North Africa on Italian coasts.
Thousands of migrants arrived in Italy in the past years and many of them haven't been found eligible for asylum by Italian authorities. Italy has tried to ask other European countries to help them hosting some of the migrants and refugees arriving on its shores, but those country have been unresponsive. Still, many people died in the Mediterranean sea and the no-profit rescue boat Sea Watch has recently reported about gun shots fired at a migrant boat by Libya's coast guard. The goal was to prevent those people from reaching Italian shores. The boats Libya's coast guard was using were donated by the Italian government to Libyan authorities, along with other tools, with the goal detain migrants from getting to Europe.
People, especially policy makers and politicians, seem to forget why these people flee. They flee because they are forced to leave their countries due to war and/or persecution. Most of them know the journeys on those boats can be dangerous or even fatal, yet they have no other choice than jumping on board and hope for the best. No parent would bring their child on those boats unless life on dry land was so dangerous. These aren't people who have decided to come to our countries and steal our jobs. They actually have no choice but to try to leave their countries and start a new life somewhere else. They wouldn't want to; they love their countries. They want to go back to their countries, but it's often impossible.
Again, Italian governement has showed us how humanity is failing. How can these politicians sleep at night? How can they play with their children and grandchildren? Do they think their kids are worth more than those on the migran boats? Do they think their own lives are worth more than those of those desperate people confined in Libya's detention camps? Amnesty International talks about more than 7.000 people that, in the first six months of 2021 alone, have been forcibly returned to Lybian camps. This means being forced back to torture, forced labor, inhuman detention conditions, cruelty, ill-treatment and extortion.
I think the main problem often is those who make decisions, those who'd have the power of actually changing things for the better and support and help refugees and migrants, don't actually see them as equals. They don't see them as mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, workers, students, dreamers.... they don't see them as people who, like all of us, had lives and still have dreams, hopes and a lot of resilience and courage. There is no other way to explain all this. If policitians would actually see refugees and migrants as equals, they'd do anything in their power to help them. They wouldn't choose to turn their backs on them and they wouldn't still be able to sleep at night. They can't even hide behind the "I don't know what happens there" excuse because they know. We all know. Everyone who simply dismiss the information or says "It's not my problem", to me, is as guilty as they are.
Until there won't be a global understanding of each other and a willingness - including a political willingness - to actually change things to create a better world for everyone, and not for a handful of people at the expenses of many others, preventable and avoidable tragedies such as this one will still happen.
Notes: this is my personal opinion and doesn't reflect the ones of any NGO and/or individual mentioned in the blog post. Photos are taken from Google and their rights remain to their owners.
Welcome to my blog! Here I talk about social issues close to my heart, my opinions, ideas, books or movies I've particularly liked, ideas and interesting facts about my writings, places I've seen, people I've met, experinences I've had and I also have conversation with inspiring people. It basically is a little slice of my world.