Alfredo Bini is a free-lance photojournalist and has found his own personal form of expression in reportage photography. He concentrates on stories of social relevance and hopes that his images contribute to the enhancement of public awareness of unbalanced situations.
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A personal story from this reportage
I am sitting in the spacious living room in the Italian consul in Niamey, Paolo Giglio’s house, whilst the sun at its zenith fuels the torrid heat of this afternoon in April, the hottest month in Niger. We have been discussing my plans to visit the north of the country to document the famous migrant convoys which set out from Agadez at 15-20 day intervals towards Lybia. Just as I am about to take my leave he issues a clear warning: “Nobody enters or leaves Agadez without a military convoy escort, and the area has been banned to journalists for 2 years. I am obliged to discourage anybody wishing to travel to that area.” In the Air region armed military escort is a necessity for the protection of vehicles and their passengers from the attacks of the MNJ militia (Mouvement des Nigériens pour la Justice), who have been fighting since 2007 for the redefinition of the distribution agreements for the proceeds of uranium sales, which has always been a resource of French annuity.
The war, the army and the numerous checkpoints on entry to and exit from Agadez, however, do not prevent a monthly influx of 7000 people hoping to cross the Tenere Desert to Lybia, on one of the routes most heavily-used by illegal immigrants. For more than ten years this route has been preferred by the majority of migrants heading towards Lybia with Lampedusa as their final destination. Perilous as it is, due to the extreme travelling conditions and constant risk of attack in a territory too vast to be properly controlled, this route is inscrutable, not least because of the figures applied to the incidents which occur along its length. The difficulty of recording deaths makes it impossible to achieve accurate estimations of the price paid in human lives, but the statistics give a mortality rate of between 12% and 15% of all those who embark upon the journey. These figures, however, are often rounded down. The nationality of the migrants depends on the internal situations in their countries of origin, and for the last few years, at least 50% of them have come from southern Nigeria, an area plagued by poverty, backwardness, corruption and pollution due to the presence of petroleum extraction fields.
It is social situations such as these that drive young people aged between 20 and 30, often well-educated, to make a bid to reach Europe across the Tenere Desert. Once they reach the middle of the desert an obligatory stop is in the oasis of Dirkou. Most of the migrants will leave for Lybia from this village situated in the Bilma Erg, but others, who left home with insufficient funds or who have been cheated during their journey, will remain stranded here, trapped. For them the only way to move on from Dirkou is to find a master who will give them work and pay them the 70.000 CFA needed for the trip to Al Gatrun, the first oasis in the Lybian desert, after 7 or 8 months work. € 15 per month to keep their hopes alive! It is thanks to this underpaid slave labour that over the last 6 years Dirkou has enjoyed a previously unimaginable degree of development, as its mayor Boubacar Djerome affirms:” Without the foreigners Dirkou would be dead.” How can one disagree with this well-covered gentleman when as short a time ago as 2003 there was no running water in Dirkou, not to mention electricity or mobile phone networks?
Those amongst the stranded who have wife and children waiting at home for the fruits of their journey are the first to succumb to their predicament and begin to show signs of psychological breakdown. They perceive the time spent in the desert as wasted and start to wonder about retracing their footsteps and returning homewards; but the shame of turning up at home with less money in their pockets than they had when they first set out forces them to accept working conditions bordering on slavery.
Hassan, Camera, Radi, Aboubacar had all been stranded in the middle of the Tenere for several months when I met them, and were dreaming determinedly of reaching Italy and Europe. In those very same days, the politicians of pre-electoral Europe were debating whether Italy’s rejection of migrant boatloads was against the 1951 Geneva Convention, and the Italian government was preparing for the definitive approval of the so-called “security bill” (or security decree), a legislative text presented to the government chambers and containing various measures designed to strengthen and protect the safety of the country’s citizens, amongst which the crime of “clandestinity” also figures. Although it was not deemed non-constitutional and has therefore been approved definitively, it is not easy to affirm that it is opposed to desirable laws promoting the suitable integration and protection of migrants on Italian soil.
Photographer: Alfredo Bini
Exhibit Title: Transmigrations: migrants crossing the Tenere desert to reach Europe
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