“We didn’t come here to steal from you” says African migrant in Italy

African migrants living in an Italian asylum centre speak about their experiences and hopes since travelling to Europe.

MINEO, ITALY (MAY 18, 2015) (REUTERS) – The migrant issue was again top of the Brussels agenda on Monday (May 18) with European ministers meeting to discuss the setting up of a naval mission in the Mediterranean to target Libyans smuggling people to Europe.

European Council President Donald Tusk also said that the European Union cannot welcome all migrants fleeing to its shores and will have to work out a new return policy to tackle the problem.

But these discussions will give no solace to migrants already housed at Europe’s largest refugee centre at Mineo in Sicily, some of whom are struggling to adapt to their new life.

26-year-old Charif Agbere from Togo crossed Africa to reach Libya where he boarded a small boat alongside 100 other people on May 5 this year.

Speaking to Reuters, Agbere recounted the moment when a bigger boat came to rescue them. Several people lost their lives trying to swim to safety and his brother was one of the people who drowned. Agbere said it would take him many years to get over the shock.

“Frankly, I thank God for getting out of this in good health, because tragedies happened on our boat. There was an accident, several people died, I lost my brother in that accident,” he said standing outside the centre.

Some of the migrants at the Mineo centre have been there for over a year and are watched day and night by military on patrol outside.

20-year-old Abu Daouda from Mali, who arrived sixteen-months-ago, said that the length of processing inside the centre depends on what story you tell the officials. They then decide, after finger-printing, how long to make legal papers last for.

“It depends on what you tell the office. If you talk to them they can give you two months, two years, or they give you three years or you can be given around five years,” Daouda said.

“That’s what the Italians do for us, I am thankful to Italy. So I want to tell the rest of the European Union to try and see how they can help Italy to cope with this, to help migrants find work in Europe,” he said.

“We didn’t come here to steal from you, we came here to help clean up the country, clean up Europe. My grandfather is a war veteran from the time of General de Gaulle, he told me about what had happened,” Daouda added.

For many migrants their presence in Europe will not be seen as a benefit and for many EU countries the emphasis is very much on stopping the flow of migrant arrivals rather welcoming them in for work.

When more than 700 people drowned in the worst shipwreck in decades last month the disaster shocked the European Union into pledging more money for rescues and more resources to stem the flow of migrants.

As part of it’s migrant strategy, the European Commission last week unveiled a plan to take in 20,000 more refugees over the next two years.

Italian Foreign Affairs minister Paolo Gentiloni said the response of the European Union has so far been positive. Being Libya’s closest European neighbour, Italy is usually the destination traffickers aim for.

But several countries, including the United Kingdom, Hungary, Poland and now Spain, have opposed the Commission’s plan and it’s suggestion that quotas should be used to calculate how many migrants each country would receive.

Some 51,000 migrants have entered Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea this year, with 30,500 coming via Italy.