Every year, hundreds of thousands of African migrants make the difficult journey to Libya and then cross the Mediterranean Sea in overcrowded rafts. Some make their way to Southern Italy in hopes of finding opportunity, safety, and freedom. Others come with no initial plans to migrate to Europe, but find that crossing the Mediterranean Sea is the only way to escape the militia prisons and slave labor camps of Libya.
When migrants arrive in the Italian ports, they are allowed to apply for asylum and then are placed in reception centers across the country where they are required to live until their cases are determined. Some migrants may find themselves stuck in these centers for years, waiting, with little to do. The management of these reception centers has become a big business, with migrants often losing out on quality and services as companies try to turn a profit on the “migrant crisis.”
In Italy, the majority of migrants from Africa are seen as “economic migrants” rather than “refugees” and are often denied legal asylum. In these cases, the Italian government requests that they deport themselves, although most choose to stay in the country illegally. For these marginalized people, there is little opportunity to find housing or work. Most women turn to sex work while men do field labor or become street vendors. In Italy’s historically homogenous society and current economic downturn, tension and racism between locals and migrants runs deep.