A few words on Tunisia’s political/migration context:
Between December and January 2011 the Tunisian people took to the streets en-mass, overthrowing the oppressive regime of Zine Ben Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled the country since 1987. Taking advantage of the ensuing decline in border controls, thousands of Tunisians took the sea, and approximately 22,000 Tunisians arrived in Lampedusa between January and April 2011. Many others did not survive the journey. Alongside the hundreds of deaths at sea in those months alone, the whereabouts of more than 600 Tunisians are still unknown. However, after renewed Italian-Tunisian agreements re-established border controls in April 2011, migration did not stop, but just started being organised differently. From interviews held with Tunisians who undertook the journey in the last three years, it seems that today’s crossings, differently from the overcrowded ships leaving Tunisia in 2011, are mostly organised on small fishermen boats, smuggling only a few passengers at a time by safely and silently dropping them on Italian shores undetected.
During his nearly ten years in Italy, Mustafa had made connections with an extensive network of Tunisians in different parts of the country. Since his last return to Tunis, he had become renowned in the area for recommending youngsters, who wanted to leave Tunisia, about the risks and opportunities of the journey. On a case by case basis, he would link them up with his contacts across Italy, providing future harraga(irregular migrants) with the necessary connections to find a job, accommodation and protection on arrival, even if undocumented.
“Everyone wants a chance to make it to Europe”, he would often remind us, speaking in a fast Italian dialect. He spoke out of experience: “I’m no saint, but can you blame me? Can’t you see how many young boys sit around here, doing nothing but chewing on cigarettes? Nobody wants to remain sitting here playing cards all their life.”
Slowly but surely, considering the stagnant economic and political situation of the country, growing numbers of young unemployed Tunisians dream of trying their luck by crossing the Mediterranean. Mustafa, one who has tried his luck more than once already, is today the link between endless card games in a café of a Tunisian suburb, and the many struggles and possibilities involved in crossing over to Europe, in search for a better life.