Migranti Africani a Reggio Calabria: Demographics, Discourses & Dilemmas

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The number of African migrants arriving in Italy by the week and by the month is quite simply put; a remarkable worry. With more than 160,000 arrivals in 2016, Italy has received almost the same number of refugees as Greece this year, and by year’s end it may surpass Greece as Europe’s new focal point for refugee flows, according to recent statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees.


Whilst working with various Nigerian, Eritrean, Somali, Ghanaian, Sudanese, Togolese and other African refugees here in Calabria; it is fair to say this well under spoken but growing epidemic has and is under-reported by British Media. The graphs and data below illustrates the number of Applications granted during the first half of 2015; these will be nothing compared to the results that will be released for the 2016 season shortly. This blog post is a sort of informal urban ethnographic report on African refugees living in Calabria.

Some of the very useful organisations working with and supporting Refugees in Calabria

I have been very encouraged by the work on the ground from organisations such as CAEP Italia, CARITAS, Kairos Europe, Itaka Training and Aware Migrants in this area. These projects (as well as assisting with the humanitarian side of things) also aim to raise awareness among potential migrants about the dangerous journey across the desert and the Mediterranean. Aware Migrants for example have a platform mainly consists of videotaped stories and accounts narrated by migrants themselves.  It is a project addressing migrants in transit and potential migrants in their countries of origin that aims to raise awareness on migration

Do Checkout: ROKIA TRAORÉ’s song: ‘Be Aware Brother, Be Aware Sister’

Chaque année, le nombre de personnes qui meurent en essayant de rejoindre l’Europe augmente. Aux 10 000 migrants qui ont perdu la vie en mer Mediterranée depuis 2014, s’ajoutent les milliers d’autres qui ont péri dans le désert, dans l’un des différents pays qu’ils ont traversés. Plus nombreux encore sont ceux qui, à leur arrivée en Libye, subissent maltraitances, viols, vols et torture, ou qui sont emprisonnés illégalement.


Rookie’s song, accompanied by a video clip directed by Gilles Delmas, will be one of the mainstays of the awaremigrants.org campaign: it will be promoted extensively through the awaremigrants.org website and social networks and can be freely downloaded from the web starting at the end of October. In particular, the intention is to promote and broadcast the song especially in the main countries of Africa with the most potential migrants.



Nigerians, Gambians, Eritreans and Guineans represent the largest number of Africans arriving to Southern Italy every week. I was fortunate enough to speak French, Hausa and Bambara with Malian, Guinean, Togolese, Cameroonian and Nigerian nationals. The Nigerian community are well numbered and scattered across the Calabria region. The Gambian community are well knit and the same can be said of Malians. Journalists, Researchers, Photographers and others that visit Riace and other notable sites are often disliked by many of the refugee locals. Taking photos without permission, twisting words that they say and rather strong ‘us and them attitudes’ many foreigners have upon arrival hinder and do not help these refugees.

Demographic of African Refugees arriving in Italy in late 2015

There has been a gradual increase in the arrival of African Women coming especially from Nigeria at the end of September 2015 was 4,371. This number has already gone up this year. Some of these women are potential victims and victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation. Furthermore, In 2015, 290 persons were repatriated from Italy in cooperation with Frontex. This has continued into 2016. 153 with flights was organised on a bilateral basis to Egypt and Tunisia, and 137 to Nigeria through joint flights with other Member States in 2015. In 2016, the current agreement is that returns will only be made to those countries where there is a re-admission agreement. A formalized agreement with Nigeria has been agreed. This was initiated by the Department of Public Safety, and forms the operational cooperation agreement with the competent authorities of the countries from which many of South Italy’s African Refugee population originate from. In particular: Gambia, Cote d ‘ Ivoire, Ghana, Senegal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. (Source: RAPPORTO SUI CENTRI DI IDENTIFICAZIONE. ED ESPULSIONE IN ITALIA – aggiornamento Febbraio 2016).


Osas (who I met on the train from Lamezia) is from Edo state in Nigeria and has settled refugee status and is seeking to get a Nigerian Passport so he can travel back home once in a while – African passports do offer another alternative for some African refugee.

The vast majority of sea arrivals to Italy continue to leave from Libya (88%) as seen with the UNHCR September 2016 ReliefWeb Stats below. Consistently with such trend, Libya remained the main country of departure in September. During the month, Sabratha was reported as the most common departure point. Furthermore, men continue to represent the vast majority (70%) among sea arrivals, while adult women account for 14% of the total. UASC (Unaccompanied and Separated Children) also represent 14% of all persons arriving by sea since the beginning of the year.



This is a sharp increase from the 7% share they accounted for in 2015. Their numbers almost doubled when compared to the first nine months of last year (10,133 in January-September 2015 vs 19,001 so far in 2016). Over 2,100 UASC were disembarked in the month of September alone. Gender and age profiles vary significantly among different national groups. Higher proportions of women are observed among Nigerian arrivals (women account for 29% of the total), as well as among nationals of Somalia (25%), Cameroon (25%), Ethiopia (24%) and Eritrea (22%).



Apart from the arrivals of African asylum seekers from the south of Italy; you also have the arrival of African refugees from the North. Some African families are known to have moved from Denmark and Sweden to the North of Italy. The politics of pain in regards to migration was similar to Italy. North and West Africans plenty dey there. Spain as a result had an agreement with the EU to create camps in Morocco with EU funding. In Spain, Asylum requests are increasing. The EU is telling ‘third countries’ to try to keep people in their countries – to have people stay in those countries. Much of this information has yet to filter through as many remained determined to make the journey.

Remember: Libya’s Migrant Economy Is a Modern Day Slave Market


The Doctors Without Borders Campaign (also known by its French acronym MSF) rescue ship “Bourbon Argos” landed in the Italian port of Reggio Calabria, on a Thursday morning in September 2016, with 239 migrants and refugees on board. This is a daily occurrence especially at the Reggio Calabria port.

Mediazione Globale’s Khalid Elsheikhe migrated from Sudan in the early 1990s and is now an Italian citizen. The local cooperative leads the efforts to help refugees find shelter, work and support in Satriano.

“I am happy arrived by boat from Libya, a big boat from Germany came to rescue us. They took us to the port of Bari… Then in groups of 22 we were taken to a police station by bus. It took about 45 minutes… The police were asking us to give the fingerprints. I refused, like all the others, including some women. Ten police came and took me, first, and hit me with a stick on both the back and right wrist. In the room there were 10 police, all uniformed. Some took my hands back, some hold my face. They kept hitting me, perhaps for 15 minutes. Then they used a stick with electricity, they put it on my chest and gave me electricity. I fell down, I could see but not move. At that point, they put my hands on the machine. After me, I saw other migrants being beaten with a stick. Then another man told me he also had electricity discharged on his chest. Then they just left me on the street, they said I could go wherever I wanted. I stayed there for three days, almost unable to move.”

(Source: AsylumInEurope)

19-year-old Castro fled the Sudanese government’s attacks on civilians in Darfur, which killed his two brothers and his 8-year-old sister. He then escaped hunger at the refugee camp in Touloum, Chad, following cuts in food and water provisions. Having travelled through Libya, he arrived in Italy in July 2016.

Dilemmas of the Newly Arrived Africans


According to the Amnesty International Report, many Asylum Seekers and Migrants are fleeing from various trials and persecutions. Among the thousands of men, women and children arriving in Italy every day through the central Mediterranean, about half travel to Europe fleeing conflict, persecution or other serious human rights violations. However, with the money that is involved in the travels via Niger, Libya, Egypt and sometimes other routes via the Sahara Desert; there is evidence that suggests even some ‘lower middle-class’ (If I can term them like that) are voluntarily sending some of their children (males in particularly) on these routes in hope of a better life.

“Take Care” by Francois Lepage (Refugees in France)

Around 1600 children have arrived out of 60,000 refugees to Reggio Calabria in the last two years (between mid 2014 and mid-2016). Illegals that are caught are told to leave within seven days and issued with a deportation document. However, this is always overlooked as they do not have the money, neither does the regional government have the money to facilitate their departure. There are common attempts from young refugees to escape their camps – and are often recruited by local drug dealers and groups to do criminal activities.


In October 2016, 25 minors from Eritrea who escaped were intercepted by police at Lamezia Station. They were believed to be heading for Rome where a criminal organisation exists. This organisation takes minors and tells them to do sexual work. Milan included. Popular with Eritreans and Nigerians. Nigerian women are the leading African nationality of female sex traffickers and workers across Southern Italy; many of them are betrayed and deceived by local ‘Madama’s who are from the same country and language group.


There are a number of Africans who successfully applied for their refugee status 15-20 years ago – who once they have been given their right to remain and Italian citizenship; they move to the UK and London. Italian Citizens of Nigerian, Ghanaian and Congolese origin lead the way in this department. Including those from Commonwealth and French speaking countries. This illustrates how even within long-term refugee communities still aim to move and not settle in Italy. Another common way to legally move out is to get married (legally) to an Italian national and be given Italian citizenship within two years – though this is currently being reviewed. Agriculture and ‘free jobs’ also represent an avenue for money for some Asylum seekers and refugees. 70% of African refugees in Sicily work in Agriculture. The volunteers are doing much more then the government itself – informal schools and NGOs have been set up almost entirely on volunteer led initiatives on the island.


“The Italians are not happy to be considered ‘more hospitable to refugees’ than Sweden. They feel as if the public opinion and media are pulling their legs. They think it’s a joke. They only want, apart from the leftists and the Vatican, to get rid of all these Muslims invaders and profiteers passed off as refugees.” Source: (Comments Economist)

Let’s also remember there are stereotypes and huge-scale uproars amongst many members of the rural and local communities in Calabria who are not interested in being perceived my outsiders as hospitable and welcoming. Sub-Saharan Africans do suffer from racial and religious perceptions. The outrage that took place when the syrian refugee child was found washed ashore on a Turkish beach was a despicable scene and a despicably selected media footage of a Syrian boy washed ashore when hundreds of black refugee bodies from Sub-Saharan Africa have been found dead on the shores of Egypt, Turkey and Southern Italy.

Mental Health Issues: Difficulties in asking for help

Usually it is female migrants and refugees that ask for more support; whilst men want to appear more strong and use alcohol and drugs to cope with their difficulties – this is evident in the UK and Italy. Usually Females call for more attention for help thus being likelier to receive support whilst young men are more suicidal. Many young men have seen their fellow friends killed, massacred and even brutally chopped up amongst social violence and gang-related violence.
Many are clients before coming councillors – a growing handful of former refugees want to become mentors, befrienders, mental health nurses and social workers. At Porto Reggio Calabria; it is common to find Refugee volunteers serving and assisting with humanitarian aid via various charities and initiatives.  Those that experience these problems are in better place to help those passing through these problems.
Many of the reception arrangements provided continue to prove increasingly inadequate, when not based solely on the logic of profit and often ill repute covered by emergency alleged conditions. Not only. Often the migrant is “left to itself” by a system that does not monitor or the services provided, their quality, their failure or lack, nor carry out regular inspections of entities to which managers are often assigned the management agreements on direct procurement , and thanks to dell’emergenzialità logic and need to identify places in a short time. To the detriment, in many cases, the principle of legality, as demonstrated by the judicial reports.


Nigerians and Gambians are the leading African Nationals getting married to Italian citizens with whom they have children. Many are still unable to gain a residence permit. Some organisations such as the CIE (Centri di Identificazione ed Espulsione); who apply for asylum on their behalf, some already gone on territorial commission, and awaits the outcome. When it was pointed out that, even within the CIE would have to tell his wife and children Italian has repeatedly reiterated that “the law is not equal for all.”

Nigerian women unfortunately are very well known amongst Italian Authorities to be part of an very sophisticated yet growing sex trafficking ring. For nearly three decades since the late 1970s, Nigerians travelling to Italy on work visas to pick tomatoes realised that selling sex was far easier and more profitable than harvesting fruits or vegetables. Around 12,000 Nigerian girls or women arrived in Italy by sea in 2015 and 2016, data from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) shows – a six-fold increase on the previous two years.


“Nigerian prostitutes frequently end up working as recruiters or “madams” for new arrivals from Africa, prosecutors say. These former sex workers also help with the logistics of slavery, driving trafficking victims to the cities where they become prostitutes. Victims of sex trafficking often do not want to point the finger at the madams or pimps because they are worried about repercussions or juju.”

(Source: Catania-based Prosector Lino Trovato)

Earlier in 2016, the boss of notorious Nigerian criminal organisation Black Axe was sentenced to 12 years in jail after a number of Nigerian men were brutally attacked in Palermo. The incident happened late one night in January 2014 in Palermo’s Ballaro street market, where police later found the victims with gashed foreheads.


An estimated 30,000 Nigerian women have been trafficked from their home country into prostitution, finding themselves on street corners and brothels in Italy and other European states since the mid 1980s. More than 85% of women trafficked from Nigeria have come from Nigeria’s Edo state in the south of the country, where traffickers have historically exploited chronic poverty, discrimination, a failing education system and lack of opportunities for young women to sell false promises of prosperity in Europe.


Lot B to meet A.R.F. Nigerian. Does not speak Italian, the dialogue takes place in English. It appears heavily sedated, under the influence of drugs. still he managed to tell everyone you have arrived in Italy in April 2008 (although rumored to be in Italy for 5 years) on a boat from Libya where he stayed three years spending time in Libyan prisons. His health conditions are regarded as totally inadequate to stay in a CIE. He says to take a medicine in the morning and one in the evening. Keeps saying “i am sick, help me, help me.” It has often staring into space. Even the lock companions ask to help him, claiming that give him psychotropic drugs, which is always in this state, it needs help. He is looking for a long time lawyer.

Nell’agosto 2015, la Campagna, insieme ad altre realtà che operano su Roma, si è adoperata per denunciare il tentativo di deportare 69 ragazze nigeriane detenute all’interno del CIE di Roma, alle quali era stato notificato e convalidato un decreto di rimpatrio senza prendere in considerazione sia la loro condizione fisica (alcune sbarcate in Sicilia in stato di gravidanza, vittime delle violenze e degli abusi subiti) sia il motivo del viaggio attraverso il Mediterraneo, “offerto” dalle reti di tratta dei migranti presenti in Nigeria ed in Libia.

Source: #20GiugnoLasciateCIEntrare (Ottobre 2016)

{Translation: In August 2015, our Campaign along with other organizations working on Roma sought to denounce the attempt to deport 69 Nigerian girls held within the CIE of Rome, which had been notified and validated a return Decree no taking into account both their physical condition (some landed in Sicily pregnant, victims of violence and abuse) is the reason for the journey across the Mediterranean, “offered” by trafficked migrants networks present in Nigeria and Libya.}

AGADEZ is a crucial point in the African Refugee Journey

In Agadez, Niger (the EU has an agreement) there is a big identification centre there so they can be identified prior to reaching Morocco and Europe. They are kept there with force usually and sent back to their countries. ‘Externalisation of Borders’ means the ability to keep those that want to enter your borders outside the country. Spain and Italy are attempting to do this. There is strong evidence to suggest a violation of human rights.
Agadez in Niger is the main point before the desert where all the immigrants meet. You can get a Bus to Bamako, through Burkina Faso through to Niger and then the ‘road to hell’ experience in the desert. The desert is worse than the sea – according to many refugees. Then they get to a camp in Libya where they are usually exploited and subject to violence and systematic abuse.
Greeted by the Mayor of Riace, Domenico Lucano in November 2016. This was an incredibly valuable and useful trip hosted by Kairos Europe and Itaka Training! And yes that’s me in the purple African top. Well Done Uncle Pax! Check him out here

Over 500 migrants are living in Riace from over 20 countries beyond Europe and represent about a quarter of the village’s total population. Kairos Europe and Itaka Training did a fantastic job organising this experience!

Chapeau à vous 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽 !!


It is worth mentioning that CARITAS are doing a great job assisting and working with Refugees in Calabria along with other voluntary organisations. I was privileged to meet Alessandra Cugnetto of CARITAS along with Khalid Elsheikhe and Ivan Ciaramida (CAEP Italia) and all the interesting yet vital work they do with refugees in Southern Italy.

Whether it’s information on the Best 50+ African Tailors, Fashion Designers & Seamstresses;  Ghanaian RestaurantsAfrican Wedding PhotographersNigerian Restaurants and Food Pop-upsBlack British Cake BakersAfrican Catering Companies in London. Or info on African migrants living in BucharestValenciaAthens. Or Info on London’s Diverse and rather unknown African Communities of NigeriensIvoriansMaliansGaboneseCongoleseAngolansSomaliGhanaiansSouth Sudanese and more. Or info about some of the dilemmas of International Students in the UK and even organisations that aid UK-based African International Students; we have it here on AfricanCultureBlog. Fresh local content on the UK and London’s Diverse African Community is available on this blog.


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