Seven young men from churches across Britain and Ireland, including Alan Meban from Lisburn, rtecently visited refugee projects in Italy to hear first hand testimony from refugees and support workers on the islands of Sicily and Lampedusa, the ‘door of Europe’.
The fact-finding trip was organised by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) and followed on from a delegation of women who visited refugee women and families mainland of Greece and one of the islands in May last year.
Alan Meban coordinates CTBI’s Focus on Refugees project and co-led the ecumenical delegation.
“We went to Sicily and Lampedusa to encounter, to listen and to reflect with refugees – and in particular the young men – who are making the perilous journey to safety in Italy safety,” he explained. “Our visit brought men, mostly in their twenties, to meet the similarly aged men making the journey by sea to Europe.
“It was clear from the stories that we heard that no one had a smooth journey from their homes in Nigeria, Gambia and Senegal. Women spoke of being forced into prostitution to pay back smugglers. Pregnancy through rape was not unusual. Men were kidnapped and forced to work in Libya for months on end before being able to board flimsy boats.
“Residents of Lampedusa have been welcoming guests arriving on their shores by sea for a thousand years. We saw how organisations like Mediterranean Hope inject dignity and humanity into the arrival of people at Lampedusa as well as those transferred to their facilities in Sicily. The stories were harrowing. But there was hope for the future.
““Now that we have returned home, we will act as ‘living letters’ to our churches and communities.”