Thursday, April 28, 2011

FRANCE - Ventimiglia, it does not

Ventimiglia. Khaled took the seat 115 and I 112. It is a second-class compartment for six people in a local train dilapidated, the Genoa-Ventimiglia route. Khaled, tired, silent. He has only one idea in mind. He regularly asked the same question. "Ventimiglia?" "No, not yet." The train stopped just before entering a station.

"Ventimiglia?" "No, do not worry. There is still one hour. This will be the last stop." Khaled, 30, is part of a human wave that is part of the coast of Tunisia, has crossed the sea to the island of Lampedusa and some fled a camp in Sicily and southern Italian peninsula. The objective is usually the same: to reach the French border, cross it and then join Lyon, Marseille, Paris, Brussels or anywhere these undocumented immigrants have relatives or know someone.

It is difficult to extract a word to Khaled. Either he does not understand French, or he does not want to talk. One senses a certain distrust in his eyes, but it still gives me crackers. All that I can squeeze him is that he is Sidi Bouzid, he spent fifteen days in Lampedusa and four others in the camp Manduria, in Puglia.

His final destination was Toulouse. The train passes through the picturesque villages of the Italian Riviera, between the mountains and the sea My traveling companion shows little interest in the landscape. He has another priority. "Ventimiglia?" "Another fifteen minutes, Khaled." We finally arrived at the border town.

The harragas, as they are called in Tunisia (literally "those who burn" because they are burning their identity papers to leave no trace and make repatriation more difficult), are clearly visible. Coach of the Red Cross awaits those who arrive to transfer them to a shelter where they can wash, eat and clean clothing.

The center is an old fire station, a very decent room where we installed an incredible range of German made campaign capable of preparing thousand meals in thirty minutes. "That engine 18 kilos of pasta cooked in seven minutes," explains mesmerized by a carabinieri marshal in charge of men who guard the place.

The police generally treat Italian Tunisians with great humanity, sometimes with sympathy. They know they have escaped the camps but showed understanding. They let them do. "If they risked their lives to get here is they are very wrong in their country," said the marshal, who will soon retire.

"Poor guy. These are human beings first and foremost." Some of the carabinieri who patrol outside the station of Ventimiglia also went to Lampedusa and Manduria. "It's been days and days we live, we eat and, sorry to say that shit with immigrants," said a young rifleman. Tunisians acknowledge the kindness of the Italians, but they cover the French President of the worst insults.

Adam, 27, says he tried to cross the border five times, by the cliffs, road and rail, and that the French police has always caught and forced to leave Italy. He said he was retained forty-eight hours and forced to return to Italy on foot. "As the goats," he complains. He works as a pizza maker.

He shows a scar on his wrist, caused by a bullet during the revolt against Ben Ali. "Ben Ali is gone, but there are lots of Ben Ali in Tunisia," he warns. A black BMW suspect, registered in Nice, with two Tunisians on board, stops outside the station. They are probably smugglers * incurred by a parent of an immigrant to take him to France.

Against a beautiful package euros, of course. Khaled vanished shortly after we arrived at Ventimiglia. He grabbed his backpack Evergreen and his water bottle, then disappeared quickly from the station, without a farewell. He was in a hurry. A little later I saw him go up the street, cigarette in hand.

He looked at me and sent me his first smile.

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