Kids at work: a migrant in Italy

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Kids at work: a migrant in Italy

What is life like for millennials? What do they think about their uncertain futures? Sophia Seymour and Daisy Squires write about the life of a Gambian migrant.


'People are talking about me in Gambia,’ says Musa Fata, 24 years old. He takes money on the door of a basement bar in Naples, where he is organising his first club night.

It’s true: boys back home really want to know about life in Europe. They listen to the Afrobeat DJ’s Facebook Live talks about music and fashion. He shows his new sneakers, carefully ironed clothes and cool hair.

Musa arrived in Italy as many other migrants came to Europe in recent years. He crossed the dangerous desert into Libya. There he washed car windows in Tripoli to earn 500 dinar ($360) to pay a smuggler to cross the Mediterranean. In August 2015, his small boat went in the wrong direction and the Italian coast guard stopped him and he arrived in Europe.

For two years he lived in refugee accommodation – it was an old hotel 150 kilometres south of Naples. He waited for the granting of his asylum status. Musa had no documents and so he lived in the shadows with hundreds of other asylum seekers.

Most of the about 400 refugees in the hotel spent their time ‘sleeping, eating, and chatting with friends back home on WhatsApp’ – but not Musa. He wanted to try to make, and save, money. It was clear that Italy was not a land of opportunity and Italians themselves found it difficult to find work. But Musa was determined.

Musa spent his first winter standing on the roadside outside the old hotel. He hoped that someone would stop and offer him work. ‘I tried every day,’ he says. ‘But only lucky people found a little work’.

The following year someone stopped and took him to a restaurant in a nearby seaside town to wash dishes. He worked hard and he made the owners very happy. They kept him for the summer. But he had no contract. They gave him cash but not regularly and it was only a few euros per hour.

When he wasn’t washing dishes, he made the long journey to Naples on two buses and a train, to buy black-market cigarettes. Musa sold them, one by one, to other refugees. So now he had somewhere to live and an evening meal.

Now Musa has asylum. But things are likely to get harder. He now shares a double-bed in a very small apartment in central Naples near the train station. He can work legally, but it is difficult to find a job when the unemployment rate for young people is between 40 and 50 per cent. And many Neapolitans, in Musa’s words, ‘don’t like us blacks’.

He had success recently with a party he organised and this helped him with his dream of being a ‘big, big, big DJ’. There are only a few nightclubs that asylum seekers in Naples feel comfortable going to. One nightclub was happy to let Musa organise his first event on a Sunday night and they shared the entrance money 50/50. Afrobeat is popular and Musa has plans to help other Gambian DJs and musicians who are in Italy as asylum seekers.

But, for now, Musa has to be open to ideas - sometimes he is on the beaches selling bikinis (one of his many jobs so far) and sometimes thinking of another ‘business plan’. But the future for Musa is uncertain.

Daisy Squires and Sophia Seymour are the co-directors of the new film, “Hotel Garibaldi”. It follows the lives of four West African refugees in Italy as they fight back against corruption in the asylum system.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).