Breil Sur Roya – France

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After spending a week in astalli center at Palermo, recovering and helping with my fellows volunteers over there, I left Sicily and started my journey back to France. thought I did still had to stop at another hotspot I didn’t knew : the French Italian border where I knew the situation between Ventimiglia and the Roya valley was difficult for both the “migrants” and the helpers.

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I heard about the story of many local people being arrested for helping the travellers to cross, to rest etc…  Cedric Herrou,  Felix croft and some others…

I seemed that what I have always found (meaning that everything is make to disable the helpers to help) was actually taking form here as a bunch of laws making the helpers life a real struggle.

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Then I decided to go.

I packed my stuff, collected some donations in Palermo and left for the northern border.

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I arrived three days after and met straight away the people from “Roya citoyenne” a group of local helpers in the valley.

There, I met Cedric who proposed me to come to his place the day after.

His house was built in the countryside between the Italian frontier and Breil Sur Roya,  lost on a mountain alongside the road and virtually inaccessible…  Somehow lost into the wild of the Alpes.

You had to walk up to a little rocky track to access the place.

There, everything was completely different from the world you knew.

For a while,  I knew how to live off the grid thanks to my nomadic way of life, but know I was experiencing a different way of living off the society and our capitalist system…  A sedentary lifestyle which was enabling sustainability  ecology and self sufficiency.

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Cedric was a farmer. The kind of farmer capable of running his own activity by himself without relying on massive agriculture, machines and so on…  His activity was honest,  humble and enough for him.

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Most of the furniture of the place was handmade

The food was coming from the lands,  both vegetables and animals.

The water was pumped from the river and warmed by firewood.

The toilet, the shower, the garbage…  Most the infrastructure here was self sustainable and ecological.

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It made me though about this kind of off the grid community willing to return to the simplicity of a different way of life going back to the nature and the basics of living.

But more than a simple hippy, Cedric was devoting his time and place to help the migrants stuck in the no man’s land of la Roya…

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Around 20 people were living there during this time of the year,  Cedric,  two or three volunteers and ten to fifteen “illegal travellers ” who were staying here waiting to go further safely.

The guys from la Roya explained me that strangely, even being on the French territory,  the migrants here couldn’t ask for asylum yet and have to go at least to Sosfel or Nice to request the asylum…  Then,  in the valley,  these people were still risking being send back to Italy by the police if they’re catch.

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What Cedric was doing was to hide them the time for them to rest and to give them the crucial information about the tracks to follow to get to these cities without being seen and catch by the police.

He used to drive them before but,  since his attestation, couldn’t do this any more.

But even disable of driving the people, he was hosting a lot of them and was also helping the other members of the valley willing to help.

And it’s funny to realize that even with the attestation,  the court and the penalties the people were facing from the state, even being send to the police station randomly during the food distribution at Ventimiglia…  More and more people were rising against the “criminal justice ” which was making sure that you couldn’t help the people.

The anti-migration policy was somehow making people guilty of being human but most of the ones I met were taking this risk, preferring being a human in jail than a free */+$”!

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And I  spent a week with Cedric and the other “delinquants solidaires “, building storage cabin, shelves and places to facilitate the work in the place.

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As he told me,  now they were few people and a lot of needs regarding the organization…  What will it be in summer with hundreds of refugees?

Then I decided to help him by building, hoping these constructions would makes the work easier and more efficient for them.

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And it reminded me Calais and the Woodward work,  cutting wood all day long, hearing the jigsaw and smelling the wood…

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But assembling the all to create construction was kind of new and I really enjoyed seeing the things taking form little by little.

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And the migrants too were enjoying helping me out in the process till the finalisation.

Working with them was a bit like the time I was in lesvos when we were involving the refugees in the daily work…  I’d say that’s one of the most beautiful thing to share with them…  Creating something together.

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And we also went to the daily food distribution happening in Ventimiglia.

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The people from the valley were cooking meals from 8am to 6pm and then,  were going to the city to feed the hundreds of migrants stuck there without anything.

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Every distribution was a gamble…  You never knew if you was about to be arrested or if it’d go OK.

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And it was unbelievable that we had to go like dealers or criminals,  hiding ourselves from the police, just to give out food to people in need.

And of course the police was forbidding us to do so… Saying that it was about “health laws” and prevention…  Yes,  letting people starving is a well better way to solve a health problem…

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We were arrested by lucky enough not to be sent at the commissary.

And we had to leave half of the donations behind.

Sad situation that made me once again   understand the gap between our government and the situation on the field.

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So far I would say that these delinquents from the Roya valley are part of the best persons on this world.

Of course they have some problems,  their organization could works better, they have their own personality and some of them might be seen as lawless…  But their common specificity is to be human more than civilians and it’s maybe why they are seen by the governments as criminals…  Thought,  I’d do the same than them and I’m glad to feels part of this group of criminal.

The only thing sad is to realise humanity start to become illegal…

Chapter XIX – Palermo – Italy

 

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After 4 days of driving through Italy, I finally got to the city of Palermo in the region of Sicily, which is, to be fair, an Island kind of … but a huge one … nothing compared to Lesvos.

Even through there’s something similar in the scenery, coastal shores, rocky mountains and beaches all over the place … volcano and tiny islands popping up far on the skyline, lost in the Mediterranean sea …

 

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Well, the place feels a bit familiar and at the same time completely different.

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First, the size of it … Sicily is roughly about 200km wide.

 

Secondly the weather … even if Lesvos was cold in winter … here it’s freezing. The wind, the rain and the snow are really making the place completely different than the sunny and bright scenery you’ve in mind when you think about “Sicily”.

exile-2-0-part-ii-6Thirdly, nobody here speaks neither English, french or Spanish … only Italian, and then, to communicate with people is a funny thing made of a mixture of each language ; one kind of “Italospanicofrenchinglish” … it’s a bit weird.

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  Nevertheless, I made my way through it and I first get in touch with Emanuele Cardella who’s running the Astalli Centro, a place taking care of the new comers from Africa in Sicily. I also met Tomasso, Martina, Gabrilele and other people in town involved in the migration issue and the humanitarian work. The place they used to gather was a co-working space and bar called “Moltivolti” like in the pub “Bobiras” of Lesvos …

The first impression I’d from the migrant center was very good.
Emanuele shown me the place and everything they’re bringing to the people in need : breakfast, clothes, shower, Italian classes, juridic advises, etc … It was way better than what I expected and I was happy to get involved in the daily work.

1And then I started working, doing the same old things that is a routine work which is always changing ; preparing food, bread and stuff for the breakfast, tiding the place, taking care of the shower, drying clothes, listing the beneficiaries, etc etc … but as usual, even if the work looks like the same on paper, it’s a whole new thing that you need to learn again.

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Every morning, the center was opening around 8.30am (we’d to prepare everything an hour before) and was serving breakfast to the hundreds of people currently in the city. Sorting the frozen breads coming from the unsold stock of the city’ bakeries, warming it up, splinting it in little pieces, serving bowls, spoons, tissues, milk, coffee to everyone etc …

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After the 1-2 hours of the breakfast, we were then continuing the work with the showers, the Italian classes and administrative requests of the people.

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The different steps of the help were also planned through the week, one or two afternoon per week for clothing, other times for advocacy and paper stuffs etc …

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We’re then doing something different everyday beside of  doing the same routine works.

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As Emanuele told me the center was running for ten years now and has been taking care of roughly 10000 people, which is telling a lot about the ongoing situation of the island, about the fact that migration here is not something new.

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Some people have left their home long time ago and were coming back from Europe, from countries such as Finland, France or Belgium … the most of them have been pushed back, due to a negative answer regarding their asylum seeking or simply because of their absence of legal documents.

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And you could find a huge diversity of origin countries … Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Morocco, Gambia, Ghana  and of course, all the other countries I already knew …

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As  matter of fact, you could see many “migrants” in town, living alongside the Italians who don’t seems to see the situation as a problem, at least they’re living with it …  and if the NGO’s were a bit difficult to find on the web (if it wasn’t impossible …) they were definitely operating on the field.

Furthermore, you could feel here that the “travellers” were more welcomed than in other places I’ve been … Local people were helping, caring for the “migranti” setting up collects, donations and fundraising to help ; you could feel that a big bunch of people were really involved … And the migrants were also living in one kind of harmony with the locals, sharing the same places, going to the same events and working with them etc … Of course the well integrated ones had spent a lot of time here and had built there new “european life” step by step, but still, the new-comers did not looked like facing the same hostility I used to notice in other places.

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As instance, Graziella introduced me to one of the action ran by the locals, WelcomeRefugee was enabling families from Palermo to host migrants in need for a period of 6 months or more … the aim was to improve their life by the time they were staying with the family (finding them a job, giving them classes etc …)

The month I spent in the city makes me realise the huge diversity of its community and, more than simply migrants, refugees and humanitarian volunteers fighting against the harsh situation that’s facing the island, I met honourable people, all willing to make a change in their life, city life and the life of the migrants …

Palermo is definitely not the place I expected to struggle in, and even if things remain hard and difficult, I’m confident in the ability of people to face the trouble and to fight with any resources they have.