beyond THE BACKwAY

Kelly O'Brien

2015 - Ongoing

Sicily, Italy

After life threatening journeys over desert and sea in the hands of strangers and smugglers these young men traveled the last stretch of their journey from Libya to Italy on overcrowded, barely sea worthy boats. When the boats reached the destination the exhausted people on board were met by the Guardia Costiera, the Military and often the Media. They were then lined up, identified and given a numbered wristband and given basic aid. Under the EU's controversial new hot-spotting system the majority of Gambians are immediately identified as “economic migrants” and are not eligible to apply for asylum.

Some are sent to live in places such as Cara Mineo, Europe's infamous migrant camp near Catania, while others are transported off on tour buses to centres in Northern Italy. Others still are simply handed a letter in a foreign language notifying them that they must leave Italy in 7 days, to “simply go back where [they] came from”. Having had their options taken away and forced into destitution they have little agency or choice and are left with an uncertain future.

Here are some of these displaced "Backway Boys" who seek asylum in Italy. They are without the privilege to cross European borders or move freely they are trapped in a limbo of waiting and confusion. Some are left traumatised and most burdened by memories of their past and the experiences witnessed during their journey.

However, with dignity they are able to hold onto the hope that their situation will improve and that they can begin living the dream that they risked their lives to find.

Each has his own story, both personal and unique to the individual yet all contain a seemingly universal narrative of strength and suffering experienced by those who make the journey to Europe.

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