A life in limbo for migrants stuck on the French-Italian border

18th June 2015, Comments 0 comments

For Musa, camped on a rocky shore on the border between Italy and France, the future lies just metres away.

The 21-year-old Sudanese man is one of hundreds of African migrants who survived the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Italy on rickety boats, and who then headed to the border -- only to have France turn them away.

Now they are massed in the Italian border town of Ventimiglia, a flashpoint in an increasingly bitter war of words between European countries over what to do with the thousands of migrants landing on their doorstep, fleeing war, poverty and persecution.

Musa has already tried to cross to the French side three times; others here have tried ten times. Some have attempted to get across by sea, but Musa doesn't know how to swim.

"I want to enter France on foot," he says as he sits with a group of friends overlooking the coast. "Maybe the police will let us through."

The former IT student is desperate to reach Germany, where a friend is waiting to help him.

With the colourful French Riviera resort of Menton visible across the water on the horizon, the nights have proven uncomfortable for the hundred or so migrants camped out on the rocks. Only the luckiest have mattresses. By day the sun is scorching, and they while away the long hours huddled under parasols.

But Musa does not want to go back to Ventimiglia's train station, where another hundred migrants are gathered, hoping they might be able to catch a train out. The coast is swarming with Italian TV reporters, and Musa thinks he has a better chance there of his voice being heard.

"At the station there are no journalists to hear us," he says.

-- 'Life was impossible' --

Musa left his hometown of El Obeid in southern Sudan two years ago and headed for Libya, leaving behind 10 brothers and sisters as well as his father, a supermarket manager, and his mother, a housewife.

"In Sudan, education is impossible, life is impossible. Everything is very expensive," he said.

He had started a university IT course, but abandoned it after a row with one of his professors.

"My father told me to continue my studies. But I wanted to make money for myself," says Musa.

In Libya, he found work at a call centre in Benghazi -- but then the political chaos in the country intervened.

"There wasn't a government anymore, there wasn't any more control," he says.

"We couldn't go out after 7 pm. And someone pointed a gun to my head, just to steal my mobile phone and some coins."

Smugglers offered to take him by boat to Italy, for anything between $1,000 and $7,000. Musa negotiated a price and set sail two weeks ago, onboard a ramshackle boat with 600 others.

"Black guys were packed like sardines in the hold," he said. "The top deck was reserved for women, children, and white people."

After about 10 hours, their vessel stopped in the middle of the sea and the passengers were rescued by Spanish and British patrol boats.

Musa ended up in a port in Calabria, southwest Italy, and called his father. He was shocked to find out what had happened to his son -- he had thought he was in Tunisia.

The journey since has taken Musa to Rome, Milan, and now Ventimiglia, where he has been stuck for a week, sleeping by the sea.

He has the air of someone who has been here forever, greeting French volunteers as old friends as they hand out parasols, plastic sheeting, bars of soap, razors, and even cigarettes.

One group of young Africans go swimming to cool off and pass the time before the Red Cross makes its next meal run.

But Musa looks straight ahead, towards France.

© 2015 AFP

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