Ras Ajdir: tearing frontiers down

The account of a passionate Italian activist who scorns indifference

Among those who were caught up in the Libyan civil war there are those people who went there before the revolution to look for a better future.

They came from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea and they effectively were the imported working class of the once-rich and wealthy Libya. From the beginning of the bombings, they started to migrate to the west, towards Tunisia. After a first moment of media attention, the focus has moved somewhere else and the world seems to have forgotten about them.

Bruno Pepe Russo, a 21-year-old Italian activist went to see personally what’s going on in the place where all these people transit every day and sometimes stay for a few weeks before figuring out where to go to start a new life: the refugee camp of Ras Jadir, north of Tunisia at the border with Libya.

“It is unbelievable how many people pass from that place every day!” says the young Italian, “When I went there an average of 25.000 people were hosted in the camp and about 2.000 were passing by.”

Bruno, who is a passionate student in Literature strongly committed to social and political issues, went to Tunisia on a humanitarian caravan organised by Unicommon and Yabasta, two Italian organisations involved in social activism and humanitarian aid.

He tells an engaged, enlightening story of cooperation, mutual communication, consciousness raising but most of all, it is about where the Arab Spring’s revolutions stemmed from.

“We usually think of people from the Middle East and North Africa as pre-modern, backward people. Talking to the Tunisian students who backed the revolution I almost had the impression that we have something to learn from them!”

Before going to Ras Jadir camp to bring food, medicines and clothes, the caravan stopped in Tunis, where representatives of local trade unions and students warmly welcomed the Italians with a meeting to discuss and explain the situation.

“An incredible will to live bursts out of these people’s eyes and words. They just come from a revolution that overturned a dictatorship and they can’t wait to build something new for their country,” Bruno enthusiastically says, “Tunis’ main street has never been so teeming with people willing to talk about politics and to share their expectations about the future!”

Before the revolution, Avenue Bourghiba was mainly a garrison; now its cafés are a meeting point for the post-revolutionary people.

However, things are not as peaceful and exciting moving to the peripheries, where people suffer the consequences of a revolution that involved the whole area from North Africa to Middle East. The refugee camp of Ras Jabir clearly shows the signs of the difficulties and contradictions on the way of freedom.

“The situation at the camp is of course dramatic. We’re talking about people who fled their countries years ago and found themselves caught in a never-ending spiral of travels around foreign countries in search of stability,” Bruno says.

Still the situation he describes is a well-organised and structured one. “The doctors who work there are young and highly qualified and the service they provide is absolutely efficient.”

Despite the obvious hardships, the feeling prevailing in Bruno’s account is that of being at the crossroads with History.

“There is a very wide range of people at Ras Jadir: from the sub-Saharians who went in Libya to offer their workforce, to rich Libyans leaving their country in search of places to set up new firms,” he says.

“Being on the frontier of these new migration movements generated by the Arab revolutions I had the feeling this is the main legacy they will leave. Overturning the regimes that held pacts with European countries to contain migration – e.g. laager camps on the Libya costs – the revolutions have torn apart many barriers,” the young activist concludes in a tone of hope and excitement, “and I think this is a great change in our present history and definitely a chance not to be missed.”

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