Emmaus International

Filippo is an Emmaus International volunteer. He’s gone to meet Emmaus organisations around Europe to find out how they’re involved in the movement’s priority areas. Here’s his story…

These are tales of his travels - planes flying overhead, trains chugging off into the fog and the coincidences of life. But also boats that set sail brimming with hope and youth, without knowing what they’ll discover elsewhere.

I’m on train Frecciarossa 9567 from Torino Porta Nuova to Roma Termini.
I left a month ago to visit Emmaus groups in Southern Europe, and I’ve already heard quite a lot of interesting stories. As the train speeds southwards, memories come flying back to me.
At the Villafranca community I met Mohammed, who was pleased to talk to me in French – perhaps that explains why he revealed the secret to making the perfect cup of Moroccan tea. As we talk, aeroplanes roar above us – he recognises every one of them due to his time in civil aviation. Stuck with no contract, papers or money, he’s waiting to find out if he’ll be allowed to have a pension and a peaceful life at last.

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A coffee break in Vallée du Po with François, who quietly tells me about Cameroon where he left his wife and three sons. He likes Italy a great deal and has travelled around quite a lot. But the crisis has changed things considerably. Now, he hopes to go back to his country and set up a community there – who knows? Unfortunately his residence permit has expired and can’t be magically turned into a plane ticket. And the twelve years spent in his host country haven’t proven sufficient for him to obtain any identity papers.

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In Fiesso, I met George, who poured me some water and wished me “buon appetito”. I discovered that under the veneer of his Venetian accent, an Albanian jokester was hiding. He was surprised to learn that we have common ancestors. The more we found out about each other, the more surprises we had.
One day in 1991, he left Durrës. He embarked on a ship headed for the Italian coast with the hope of finding a better life. Now he’s on parole and living in a community to make up for an error he made three years ago which confines him to his bedroom every night between 10pm and 6am. At the moment, he’s fixing up a bike for his son, who’s celebrating his eighteenth birthday this year.
He’s got used to parmesan and the fog, but not to never seeing the sea. He misses soft white cheese and being able to sleep peacefully.
“When all this is over, I’m going to get a camping-car and drive all the way to Albania.”

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In Ferrara, outside the warehouse, Ibrahim gives us a master class on international migration: “Italy’s taking Europe’s money to let migrants in, but isn’t doing anything at all – Italy doesn’t care. It’s not like in Scandinavia where you get ID papers and half an hour later you’re given food and a roof over your head.”
He fled Eritrea after years of compulsory military service, during which he learned sign language.
He crossed Sudan, Libya, survived the desert and the sea, arrived in Lampedusa, then Rome, Ferrara, Stockholm and lastly ended back in Ferrara where he was given asylum.
He can use his papers to travel anywhere, but isn’t free to settle outside Italy. So he’s waiting…. to find a job, have a family, and be able to decide where to live.
He’s unloading a huge wardrobe along with Saïd, who’s wearing combat trousers and a smile brimming with all the hope in the world. He speaks a Moroccan dialect, not French or Arabic, but through gestures and saying shukran and grazie mille we manage to understand each other in the end. When we come across an old map of the Mediterranean he begins to tell me his story. He points to Casablanca… he then flew to Tunis and then on to Lampedusa by boat. Then what happened? The prefecture sent his a letter inviting him to go back to Morocco “If possible, by plane please; departing from Rome would be even better”.

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Tales of travels and frontiers… Like the Eritrean guys who told me how they were picked up by the police and then left to wonder “free” at a motorway restaurant in the middle of the countryside near Macerata.
Or the story of the young Nigerian girl who arrived in Helsinki with a train ticket for Munich.
And the guy who took ten years to get from Asmara to Berlin.
I’ve been on this assignment for a month now and have already taken a plane and several trains, the Emmaus companions picked me up by car and camping-car, I’ve travelled around in vans, I’ve walked around cities and the countryside, and they’ve lent me a bike so I can go for rides on Sunday.
And this is just the beginning of the journey.
I’m free to move about, without asking myself too many questions, even though there’s one question that’s been constantly on my mind: why am I free?
No answer. Just the hum of the train arriving at the station. The journey goes on…

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