19-year old Diallo used to be a breakdancer in Guinea
19-year old Diallo used to be a breakdancer in Guinea

The story of 19-year-old Diallo from Guinea is one of escape from racism and violence, of tragedy in the desert, and of friendship in Libya lost and found again.

Diallo is a member of the Fula people, Guinea's largest ethnic group followed by the Mandinka people. Racial tensions exist between the two groups. "There's racism in Guinea," he said, explaining that his group of friends was mainly Mandinka and that only he and one other young man in the group were Fula. He said the Fula didn't like that he was friends with Mandinka. They attacked him and his family, leaving his uncle wounded. 

"Fula and Mandinka can't go together," he said. "I always grew up with Mandinka, my whole life ever since I was a child. But my uncle, who is also Fula, told me if I didn't want to have more trouble, I should leave," he said. That's why Diallo, at just 17 years old, left his country, his ties, and his life, to embark on a journey to Europe. 

Tragedy in the desert

Diallo traveled through Mali, Algeria, Libya, and finally reached Italy. The life-threatening journey lasted over one year. "I left my country with a friend, but he didn't make it. He died while we were crossing the desert," Diallo said. "When I got to Libya, I was alone". When he arrived in Libya he was put in jail without knowing why. "I was in (prison) at Sabratha for three months," he explained. That's where he met Lee Pakeba, a young man from Senegal, who was a migrant as well. 

"We joked around, we worked together for the traffickers.They make you pay to come to Italy," Diallo said. "In Libya it's easier to get in than to get out," he said. The two young men, working for the traffickers, were able to get a place on a boat headed for Italy and departed together to cross the Mediterranean. 

Journey from Libya to Italy

Diallo and Lee disembarked in Italy on September 1, 2016, in Calabria. They were separated upon arrival, but didn't forget each other. After nine months, Diallo went to the theatre and thought he saw his friend among the actors on stage. "I was far away and couldn't see well, but it seemed like him. I looked for him after the show and it really was him. When I saw him, I almost started crying," Diallo said. The bond found once again was a sign of hope. "I hadn't seen him for a long time, I didn't know how he was doing or where he was. Now we're always together. He lives far away from me but we talk often by phone.We're doing well, we have fun together," Diallo said. Diallo lives in Rome in a migrant reception centre in the Decima neighbourhood. His family still lives in Guinea. "I would like for my mother to come here, I miss her," he said. "Now I can talk to her on the phone, but for a year and nine months I didn't have any contact with her," he said. "I'd like to go to school, and to become a dancer. I like Italy. I want to stay here," he said.

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