Photo credit: Stefano Intreccialagli/ANSA
Photo credit: Stefano Intreccialagli/ANSA

Soumaila was forced to flee Mali due to his work in an opposition party. He first fled to Algeria and then Italy, experiencing the tragic situation of Libya in between. Now he wants to build a future in Italy as a lawyer.

The Malian refugee Soumaila fled from his home country and experienced discrimination, prison, betrayal and deceit, with death nipping at his heels before arriving in Italy. 

In Mali, Soumaila was communications chief for an opposition party. One day, he and others in his party took part in a public assembly to speak out about the government's crimes. They were then accused of an attack on the speaker of the legislative assembly, "unfairly", he says. ''It was their way of stopping what we were doing to change the country,'' Soumaila told ANSAmed. 

Twice, Soumaila ended up on a list of people wanted by the police. ''When I received the news, luckily I was on a trip to Burkina Faso. From there I went directly to Algeria,'' he said, where he stayed for a year prior to the Ebola epidemic in 2014, when he fled Algeria as well. ''They thought that all black Africans were infected with this disease and I couldn't stay because they discriminated against me. I was forced to go to Libya. From there I wanted to leave to the US, like a friend of mine had,'' he said. 

Instead, ''I was captured and jailed by militants without knowing why. They told me that if I wanted to get out I needed to pay, but I did not have money or even ID papers,'' he said. 

Thanks to the help from some Swedish friends who sent money to him, the young man managed to get out by paying a ransom. 

Experiencing death at sea 

Finally free to leave the country, Soumaila contacted a trafficker, who promised him a safe journey. He paid but ended up on a beach with 120 other people and a dinghy in front of them on the night of December 24, 2014. ''I did not want to get on it but I was forced to leave - otherwise, they would have shot me."

The dinghy sunk less than an hour after it weighed anchor. Only 30 people of the 120 survived. ''I saw many people drown,'' he stressed. Soumaila was in the water 45 minutes prior to managing to swim back to the Libya coast. 

The next day, he left again with 100 other people. The journey lasted one day, until on December 26 he and the others like him on the dinghy were rescued by the Italian Navy and taken to Palermo. After being granted international protection, Soumaila began to work in a Rome territorial commission as an interpreter and later in a Centro Astalli project, thanks to which ''I had the chance to convey many things to schoolchildren. To make them understand that foreigners are not a threat'', he said. Soumaila is now trying to build a future for himself in Italy. ''I decided to stay here. I am in the process of getting my studies officially recognized,'' said the law graduate. ''I hope to be a lawyer in Italy one day, he said.

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