The one speaking is Barry, 27, who left Sierra Leone when he was 20 years old. Today his life is in Rome. He lives with other Italian university students and refugees in a co-housing facility provided by Centro Astalli/Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Italy. A vibrant house characterised by daily encounters and exchanges between housemates and JRS’s staff. Nevertheless, his words echo loudly within the walls of the new house as if it was empty.
“I first became a refugee as a child, when my family and I had to flee to Guinea because of the war in my country. We returned home after six years, but shortly afterward an Ebola epidemic broke out.” Then they could not go out, could not go to school, could not do anything. “In my life, I always wanted to study. I tried hard to succeed at home but believe me, it was impossible. So, I left without saying anything to my parents. They wouldn’t let me.”
Barry traveled for seven years and crossed five countries before reaching Europe. It is a dangerous journey to Europe, thousands of people die every year on the route across the Mediterranean Sea. In 2022, it is estimated that more than 2,000 people lost their life at sea.
Barry’s life intertwined with Ismael’s in Mali, one of the first stops on his journey. “Without him, I would never have made it. He helped me with everything. Together we arrived in Niger.” From there their journey continued to Libya, where “we ended up in a camp with hundreds of other men and women. In a situation of slavery. Those were very hard months.”
It was nearly at the end of the journey, almost at the long-awaited moment of departure, that the stories of Ismael and Barry separated. “Ismael had been brought on a boat. I was sure we would meet again in Italy. His boat sank with all the people on board. This is how I lost my friend.” The day after, Barry also set off on the crossing. There were more than a hundred people in a rubber boat, which was over a thousand kilometers away from the Italian coast of Lampedusa. “I only made it alive because a Spanish NGO vessel rescued us.”
In Italy, Barry is building his own future, he is studying mechanical engineering at the University, which was what he dreamed of doing. The co-housing project run by Centro Astalli has enabled Barry and other young Italians and refugees to support each other and share daily responsibilities. This new experience of co-housing experimented by Centro Astalli started in 2020, from the desire to foster the autonomy of the people hosted, encouraging them to share their different life paths.
However, it has not been an easy journey.