The Italian Juxtaposition

Photo credit: SOS Méditerranée/Flavio Gasper. Migrants continue to make the perilous sea crossing from Libya to Europe. Retrieved from:

Wendy Stickle

September 2021

From the window of my apartment in Sorrento, I marvel at the sparking water of the vast Mediterranean Sea. After a short walk down to the Mariana Grande, I can smell the fresh air, feel the cool breeze, and see the perfectly clear water. Around me, the sounds and sights of happy beachgoers, bustling cafes and storefronts, squealing children, tethered kayaks bouncing buoyantly surround me. I recall my recent excursion, kayaking along the coast to a lovely grotto where young people cooled off in the water, shaded by rocky cliffs. Sorrento. It delights all of one’s senses like nowhere else in the world. 

It is so peaceful, so idyllic, protected from the politics and stress felt in nearby Napoli.  You could almost forget the dangers of the sea. One may forget that thousands die each year attempting to cross the sea in overcrowded boats. By the end of July of this year, at least 1,000 people have been killed attempting to cross the Mediterranean. This tragic ending often concludes a difficult journey marred by violence (often sexual in nature) and exploitation. For those that don’t drown, their boats may be intercepted, and passengers returned to the port country, only to board another boat and try again. Those that make it across, land often in Italy, excited to start a new life in Europe. To start this life, many endure racism, exploitation, and language barriers in the process of gaining legal status to remain in Italy and/or proceed into the EU.

It is unimaginable what life must be like to want to leave the only land you know enough that you are willing to risk everything, including your very existence. What resilience such individuals must have to keep going.  What inner strength to rise above the violence, exploitation, and trauma, to create a new life in a new country.

The juxtaposition of tranquillity in Sorrento and other touristy-Mediterranean towns, where life is easy and cares are free with the weathered and traumatized, fighting their best to survive and thrive, is difficult to process. Most people only think of Italy as a sunny escape filled with food, wine, culture, and relaxation. Through the stories on this blog, you will be introduced to dedicated Italians and others working to protect and enable refugees to live the lives they have fought so hard for. You will learn about the immigration system of the EU and the barriers that make it difficult for refugees to fully integrate and make them susceptible to exploitation even once they are in Europe. You will learn that Italy is so much more than a good holiday, but a country that has committed, albeit difficult, to taking in refugees and helping them create new lives, safe from violence and exploitation.