Berthin Nzonza, a refugee in Italy and founder of the association 'Mosaico,' which works in refugee support in Turin, is calling on the public to not forget about the migrant crisis amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. His appeal comes just ahead of World Refugee Day on June 20.
The coronavirus pandemic has taken attention away from the migrant and refugee crisis, according to Berthin Nzonza, a refugee in Italy and founder of the association 'Mosaico', which works in refugee support in Turin. "No one is talking anymore about critical situations such as the migrant camps on the island of Lesbos, or the situation of refugees in Libya, or between Greece and Turkey," he said.
"In these four to five months, no one knows what has happened in those places; the situation has gotten worse. World Refugee Day needs to be the occasion to highlight these situations," he said. "What we learned with this pandemic is that no one can save himself alone, and universal rights are important," he added.
Nzonza was one of the guests at the virtual press conference held by the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR on Thursday June 18, ahead of World Refugee Day on June 20.
Nzonza came to Italy in 2002 from Congo-Brazzaville. He was part of a political movement in his country of origin, but at a certain point "life had become risky, so I left," he told ANSA. Once he arrived in Turin, "at the start it was difficult, it was tough. I found myself living on the street. I thought I was going to a country where civility ruled, but instead it was hard. However, this also gave me a push to use all the resources I had inside," he explained.
"For a year I went from dormitory to dormitory, until I had the luck of finding a space thanks to the Waldensian Church, which became a point of rebirth for me." Nzonza was placed in the refugee protection program, but after receiving international protection, "I was thrown out after a month," he said.
"On that occasion, I had the luck of finding a doctor who treated me, who hosted me for two years, and with whom I developed a brotherly friendship. This allowed me to have the opportunity to think about my future, to believe in myself, and to think about making a contribution to the social context that welcomed me," he said. That's how the idea was born for the Mosaico association for refugees in Turin.
"When I arrived, there were almost no services around for me. I realised that those who arrived after me would still have the same difficulties. So, with two friends, we decided to do something, to provide the support that we didn't have," he said.
The association was officially founded in 2007, as a place for refugees and asylum seekers to express themselves and to try and overcome the image of the refugee as a weight on society.
Efforts against the coronavirus
Mosaico is currently also working on the coronavirus response in Turin, and has provided food and hygiene products to about 150 refugees, including 15 families with children.
"The immigrant brings his history with him; he is a resource for everyone. He isn't an object, but a person who brings values and useful skills," Nzonza said. The association helps inform those who arrive in Italy "of their rights, but also their responsibilities, because rights and responsibilities go hand in hand. This is the message we give to refugees who come to us," he said.