In the last ten years managing migration flows has created in Europe a vast laboratory of repression. The public opinion has always been induced to consider the construction of the European Union as a realization of historical achievements: Breaking down borders, freedom of movement, and prosperity for everybody. In reality, these achievements are only valid for European citizens. Today, Europe is a fortress made up of laws, regulations, and concrete walls, which are built to refuse the entry.
I started this project in late 2010 in the region of the Evros, Greece, with the journalist Fabrizo Gatti on assignment for L’Espresso. There was talk of building a 12 km long fence, to block the migration flows along the only part which is not on the river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey. Almost seventy percent of the immigrants choose this stretch of land in order to enter Europe. We patrolled it for days. Every night we met groups of people who crossed it in small boats. Many arrived frozen, with wet clothes. In winter, temperatures are below zero. Without any assistance. Many of them do not make it. Detention center are waiting for them, where they are detained for months under inhumane conditions. No one can help them without risking the crime of aiding and abetting illegal immigration and being arrested.
A similar story expects those trying to cross the border in Morocco and trying to enter the Spanish enclaves Ceuta and Melilla. In 2005 a mass assault of some 600 migrants led to the deaths of ten people. A hundred more were injured. The result: Europe has duplicated the metal barriers that surround the enclaves. Today two six meter high and 12 km long walls surround Ceuta and Melilla. But this has not stopped migration. Immigrants try to cross swimming or with the help of drug traffickers who cram them inside cars or specially modified vans in unbearable travel conditions. Some of them drown, others risk asphyxia. In March this year the last two died, drowned in the hope of entering Europe. I saw their bodies still lying in the cold store waiting for someone to chose the type of burial. Christian or Muslim. Many immigrants arrive at Ceuta and Melilla from the southern Sahara after exhausting journeys. They believe they have already arrived in Europe, but the special laws of the Spanish enclaves manage to hold them there for years, in a sort of limbo. They are forced to live in shantytowns to escape from the police, who seek to identify and then expel them forcibly with their continuous interventions.
I also documented from January to May 2011 the state of emergency in Italy after the massive landing on Italian Shores from Tunisian migrant during the so called Arab-Spring. Many of them making for the island of Lampedusa, which for years has stood as a prominent symbol of the fight that Europe and the italian government have waged against irregular migration in the Mediterranean region.
With this project I am trying to tell the story of Europe’s borders. Getting to know the places of transit, the conflicts and contradictions of the boundary between Europe and the world has shaped and affected me. The fences by which Europe has surrounding itself do not stop migration, but make the situation even more dramatic and violent. Over the past 14 years about 17000 immigrants have died in the Mediterranean trying to cross the material and virtual walls that surround the European Union today. 60 times more people than those who have lost their lives attempting to cross the Berlin Wall in 28 years. And the numbers will increase year by year.