Local Response to the Humanitarian Crisis: Maria and the Collettivo Antigone

Photo: ©Francesco Malavolta

Leading up to World Refugee Day (June 20), we’re launching a series of reflections upon our personal experiences in dealing with the consequences of war and conflict and the increased influx of refugees to Europe. How can we, newcomers and local residents alike, work together at grassroots level to create a better future for us all?

Bonnections was initiated by a group of refugees and volunteers who met through the local refugee work. Maria Grazia joined the group after visiting our first book club meeting in April. As it turned out, she co-founded a similar story telling project with friends in Italy to give a voice to refugees and migrants who landed on Sicily’s shores by boat.

The intercultural Collettivo Antigone blog aims to provide inputs to reflect on complex issues, such as refugee protection and forced migration, from multiple angles and to present individual stories.  “Just like me, Moussa left what he knew to build a better future. Moussa has paid a very high price for his bravery and every night he goes to bed wondering if he’ll ever see his mum again. Moussa is not an immigrant. Moussa is a person,“ she explains.

This is Maria’s story.

My name is Maria Grazia and I come from Sicily. You may have heard about my native town, named Augusta. It’s now often men­tioned in the media in rela­tion to the cur­rent human­i­tar­ian cri­sis. The port in Augusta has played and is still play­ing a major role in wel­com­ing migrants who have been res­cued while cross­ing the Mediter­ranean.

Photo: © Francesco Malavolta

In May 2014, I went back home for vaca­tion and I could see myself what was hap­pen­ing in my for­mer ele­men­tary school that was con­verted into a tem­po­rary shel­ter for unac­com­pa­nied minors. Being able to speak both French and Eng­lish, I had the chance to speak with the guys there. In some cases we became friends and we are still in con­tact.

I was so shocked by the hard­ship of their liv­ing con­di­tions in the school as well as by their sto­ries that I decided to give them a voice. At first the blog was con­ceived as a vir­tual place to col­lect those sto­ries, but after­wards new peo­ple have joined and we have started deal­ing with migra­tions from var­i­ous per­spec­tives: art, cin­ema, trans­la­tion, cre­ative writ­ing and so on. At present we have two refugees from Africa and one from Syria writ­ing with us.

The turn­ing point was in Novem­ber when we pub­lished the first poem writ­ten by a 17-year old guy from the Ivory Coast. The poem was enormously successful thanks to the strength of the feel­ings expressed and to the pic­ture used for illus­tra­tion.

Photo: Francesco Malavolta
Photo: © Francesco Malavolta

Pho­tog­ra­phy is cru­cial to sup­port our texts and we have been coop­er­at­ing with dif­fer­ent pho­tog­ra­phers, includ­ing Francesco Mala­volta. He is an Ital­ian pho­to­jour­nal­ist who has been cov­er­ing migra­tions for more than 20 years work­ing on behalf of Inter­na­tional Organ­i­sa­tion for Migra­tions (IOM), Asso­ci­ated Press, UNHCR and Fron­tex.

Francesco has believed in our project from the very begin­ning and we are all very grate­ful to him. His work shows the hard­ship and painful real­ity that migrants and refugees have to go through in order to get to Europe and cross the Euro­pean bor­ders rang­ing from Greece to Sicily, from Les­vos to Lampe­dusa, from Ceuta and Melilla to the “Balkan Route”.

I warmly rec­om­mend to visit his web­site as well as to fol­low his Face­book page. It will give you a chance to gain a bet­ter under­stand­ing about the so-called “refugee cri­sis”. To me it seems more like a “cri­sis of human­ity”

Here’s the English section of our website.



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