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“When I see these images on TV where thousands of young men, my peers, walk for weeks, facing cold and the waters of the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Europe, I see myself again”. Umar’s eyes are full of tears. He is a Pakistani young man in his early twenties and his long odyssey made him leave the country where he lived and escape from the bombing and war. “People do not have a choice. They leave their land to save themselves and their families”.

He lived in Libya together with his parents and two brothers. A normal family, like many others. They had a beautiful house; the father worked and the mother looked after the children. One day, everything changed all of a sudden: “At the beginning of May 2011 – the young man recalls – my mother had travelled to Pakistan to visit some members of her family; my father went to pick her up. Me and my brothers stayed at home. One night, a deafening noise and fire woke us up. In a few minutes it devoured our home. We were bombarded”.

The three brothers flee from their home wearing only nightclothes. There is hell all around them: The floor was hot, the air unbreathable. “At a distance, we watched our house burn down. We were struck by the colors of the flames. Shortly after, we looked into each other’s eyes and understood that from that moment on nothing would have been the same anymore”. With a friend’s help, Umar and his brothers of 12 and 17, manage to flee. “We were alone and had no  papers. We saw many people escaping from Libya on board vessels and decided to do the same. We managed to sail aboard a barge. After two days at sea, the boat reached the Italian coasts. “We landed in Lampedusa. But we did not know where we were; some people said it was Tunisia, others said it was Libya. We were scared and confused. But happy to be together”.

Their odyssey continues. They only stay for a few days on the small island because all three of them are minors. At first, they are transferred into a community of Pian del Lago, a suburb of Caltanissetta. Then follows yet another transfer. The destination is Termini Imerese, nearby Palermo. Years pass by and Umar, together with his brothers learn Italian. They attend school and succeed perfectly to integrate into the social fabric. A slap in the face of all those people who describe immigrants only as criminals.

They also manage to get in touch with their parents again, who stayed in Libya, unable to leave that country torn apart by war. A new long journey begins for the three brothers, this time through Italian bureaucracy, in order to obtain a residence permit. “It was a very serious problem – Umar says -. I could not leave Termini Imerese without papers. To get the residence permit, I had to go to the embassy of Pakistan in Rome”. But to reach the capital, I needed the residence permit, otherwise I risked expulsion. A slap in the face of all those people who have the requirements for the ius soli, but cannot ask for it to be respected because of the bureaucratic procedures.

Thanks to the persistence of a child minder who assists them, after many to and fro to the police headquarters of Palermo, they find a solution in the short term: a residence permit for 24 hours “to reach the embassy in Rome”. Things finally seem to go in the right direction, but troubles have not finished yet. At the embassy they misspell Umar’s surname. This becomes the beginning of yet another bureaucratic odyssey.

But they find a solution and the three brothers obtain a residence permit. Today, Umar is in his last year of studies at the Stenio Technical School in Termini Imerese; his elder brother is a cultural mediator in Caltanissetta, whereas the youngest one still goes to school. For him this is a peaceful Christmas after many difficulties. “We want to help these refugees who are in difficulty today, as we were helped back in times”. After high school, he would like to go to study in England. “We will see what the future holds for us – he says with a smile -. In the meantime, I will stay in Sicily to help the others. When I see those images on TV – he concludes – I see my brothers again. And when I see those walls being built to prevent refugees from coming, it makes me angry. Walls must be destroyed, not built”.

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