African immigrants who survived holding a fishing net in middle of sea
At first glance it appears a benign image, a net cast on the sea. It is only on closer inspection that
the reality of the photograph becomes clear - the specks around the outside of the net are people
clinging on for their lives.
It became one of the images of the year: 27 refugees, holding desperately to a vast tuna net cast loose
on the Mediterranean. The photograph, when it was released by the Italian port authorities last May,
was an instantly memorable picture of the reality of modern-day migration from sub-Saharan Africa.
For two days, the men had been forced to hold on to an 18in walkway around the top of the net after their
own dilapidated wooden dinghy had sunk off the Libyan coast. None could swim, they had virtually no food
or water and when they were eventually rescued by the Italian navy after their perilous nine-day crossing,
the men were within hours of death.
After overcoming such hazardous obstacles to pursue their dream of a life in mainland Europe, the men
were ill-prepared for the grim reality that awaited them. The Italian government, aware of the extreme
adversity the men had experienced, granted all 27 one-year 'humanitarian status' which enables them to
stay in the country, but none of them can speak the language and they have found it impossible to find
regular work. Justice, Akito, Vito and of the others - John from Nigeria and Moses from Ghana -
were taken to a holding centre on the island of Lampedusa before being transferred to a migrant
shelter funded by the Catholic Church in Naples, where the conditions are basic and uncomfortable.
living in mainland Italy, have spoken for the first time about their extraordinary journey.
In interviews for a forthcoming Panorama documentary, the five men, all aged 18 to 23 and from Ghana,
Niger and Nigeria, tell how they left their families and their livelihoods behind in order to forge a
new life in Europe. They paid $1,000 (£500) each to a gang of people traffickers and congregated at a
meeting place on the Libyan coast. But instead of the large, metal ferry they had been expecting, they
were led down the beach to a small wooden dinghy and told to get in. What was to follow was one of the
most dramatic survival stories of Africa's boat people.
Justice Amin, Ghana
Justice, at 18 is the youngest of the men rescued from the tuna net.
He left after his parents were killed in a car
crash and has come to Europe to make money to send back to his younger brother and sister
still in Ghana.
He's now living in Breno, a small town in the Italian Alps where he is living in a charity
hostel run for migrants. He takes two Italian lessons a week, without the language it
will be tough to find work and without work it's unlikely his year long licence to stay
in Europe will be extended.
Despite his idyllic surroundings he still finds his situation frustrating. He explains:
"I'm here to find work to do so that I can help my family in Africa. That's why I'm here
in Europe. So I'm not happy. I mean, I like this area, this place I am living. But
I'm not happy.
On the seventh day of their crossing, the men spotted a Maltese commercial
fishing trawler, but the captain refused to take them on board, fearing a
change in course could jeopardise his lucrative catch of tuna destined for the
sushi bars of Japan. 'Maybe he was afraid of us because we are black people
because we are 27 and we are all blacks, no white man inside,'.
'So I thought maybe he was afraid. That was what I think.'
Yet as the migrants' boat started taking on water, they were left with no choice
but to lunge for a huge fishing net towed behind the trawler. Exhausted, unable
to swim and at the very limits of human endurance, the group of 27 kept their
spirits up by singing prayers together. 'Inside the net there was big, big fish,'
recalls Vito. 'Even I was afraid of those fish. I thought that, if anyone fall
inside they will be eating that person because those fish were very big.'
Now, he's living 30kms from Venice in a
former military camp that now houses drug addicts and migrants.
Nine of the men from the tuna net are living here in a place that is rural and
isolated - not the busy city they need to find work.
He explained life in Europe isn't what he was expecting:
"They are not treating us well... there is no work for black people, for illegal
immigrants, all of them are wandering the street, looking for, begging money."
Atiko, a 23-year-old Ghanaian, says that the people-traffickers
abandoned them 200 yards from the shore, leaving them with a gadget that was 'round like
a clock'. It was a compass, but none of the men had ever seen one before. The people
traffickers told them the crossing would take less than an hour.
It took six days to navigate 120 miles.
The sea was just going up and down like this, frothy. Just pushing us here and
then there's a wind too... I shout "Jesus save me Jesus save me..." Nobody knows how
to swim. Only God, only God could help us, only God.'
After be saved, he was buzzing with excitement and ambition, now he's sleeping
rough in a train station, scavenging in litter bins and begging:
"I can't steal... so begging is better for me.That will be better for me to survive."
He would still like to go to England, but his priority is finding work and somewhere to live.
A producer for the BBC who spent three months tracing the migrants for the documentary,
says: 'They are young boys, very naive, very sweet and they didn't
have a clue what they were getting themselves into. Italy is not
a place where you can just walk out the door and find a job.
They just don't know how to go about it. They don't have a penny.