Carelinks | Sicily
There are believed to be up to one million migrants in Libya and North Africa, trying to reach the shores of Italy by boat. Many of these come to Sicily- up to 8000 / day. We have had contacts in Sicily since 2009, including some Africans who emigrated there legally in the past and have been many years in Italy. The situation in Sicily for all the new arrivals is utterly hopeless- there is no way Italy can cope with such huge numbers arriving each day. The most they can do is to try to ensure that minors and women are accommodated. But this leaves huge numbers of young men unable to get from Sicily to mainland Italy, and often without documents. Sicily is just full of them. It’s a very hot, dry climate and water is at a premium, and relatively expensive. Public fountains and water sources have been turned off as there are just thousands of litres of water being taken from them each day; even those lucky enough to be in camps are only given one litre of water / day, despite the boiling temperatures. Public opinion in Sicily is running at high levels against the migrants. Racism is absolutely rampant.
As a white guy, you get abuse and many hard looks walking down a street with black folks. And indeed, Sicily cannot cope. But the boats keep arriving. It’s all very well to say “Well, they should’ve stayed in Africa”. But even if that is thought to be legitimate, even if one digs a hole for oneself and falls into it, you’re still in the hole and need help. It is basic humanity to assist, let alone the spirit of Christ. All these migrants had no idea that this was going to be the reality of life in fortress Europe. Sicily is in any case quite poor. There are tens of thousands of them just roaming the place, hungry and thirsty. Crime is their only recourse, as begging will not get any sympathy from the local Sicilians. With many thousands of desperately poor young men roaming around, the area has become a honeypot for all manner of homosexual abuse and sex tourism. It’s a tragic situation.
This is a forgotten or ignored crisis, the media are almost silent about it. The tourists in their resorts and tourist beaches are totally ignorant of what is going on. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that it is no mere stereotype that much of Sicily, especially the interior of the island, is in the hands of the Mafia. They are exploiting the situation; sexual exploitation and slave labour in the fields and factories is rife, often forcing them to do dangerous work for a pittance.
Corruption is endemic in Sicily; many of the new camps have been built in the interior, right in the heart of Mafia controlled territory, and the residents are used by them. Many of the migrants were conservative young Africans who find themselves alone in a frightening and lonely situation where immoral behaviour seems the only way to survive. It’s all very well saying “Well go home then” but they typically have no documents and cannot be deported, because international law forbids sending people to any country if they have no documents. Many borrowed money to make the journey and some have genuine fears of the situations they fled from.
There are very few aid organizations operating in Sicily; that is not in the interests of the Mafia. And with each boatload of arrivals, the situation gets worse. Many arrive traumatized by the awful journey; we baptized one migrant, Tony (pictured above), who got to Sicily and managed to get to mainland Italy. His story is terrifying; you can see his testimony at: http://tinyurl.com/carelinks-anthony
Prayer Request | Protection
A week after his baptism, Tony was brutally attacked by a man with an iron bar in a racially motivated attack and had to go to hospital. Anthony is a true convert to Christ and a gentle, non confrontational person. Please pray for him and all our other African brethren and sisters at risk from this kind of thing.
The beaches of Sicily and Lampedusa have bodies washed up on them regularly. Probably 20% of those who attempt the journey don’t make it.
We baptized a young man called Justice on the beach in eastern Sicily. Watch it at: http://tinyurl.com/carelinks-justice
He was quite terrified of going back into the water, and you may be able to hear his terror in the recording. He’s not a standard migrant, as he came to Sicily two years ago, although also by the sea route, as a minor. He was put in a young person’s hostel and went to the local school. But as soon as he turned 18, Italy are free of their legal obligations to him. He was turned out of the hostel and school on his 18th birthday and had to live on the street. He took us to see the disused convent where he and many other Africans had slept on the stone floors. But he was different, although without parental influence and any sense of family, he earnestly wanted to serve God and go God’s way. One evening on a borrowed computer he came across a video of a Carelinks conference in Croydon where we were packing up Bibles to mail out. He wondered if he could get one, and so began our contact. He has in turn distributed our NEV Bibles to other young Africans he knows. He laments that many have left their Christian faith in practice.
We discussed the Biblical promises, that God will not let us be tested more than we’re able to bear, but will make a way to escape; and that the Lord will not suffer the rod of the wicked to fall so heavily on the righteous that they are driven to sin. But in his situation, it takes some faith to believe this. His only real possession is an old cell phone, which he uses where there are free WIFI hotspots to read our material and watch our videos. He has the Bible on his phone. But nobody wants to mentor a young man like that, the Catholics are about the only church doing much for the migrants, and there are few Protestants in Sicily. He really feels he has found a family with us, although he is isolated. Please pray for him, that his faith will not fail, and the Biblical promises of preservation from sin come true for him. He has already interested other people, some of who we met.
Pictured above is a photo of him having a cold drink after his baptism, with his phone which serves as his Bible and source of contact with us. He gets only clothing he finds or which some organizations offer. He has just a couple of T-shirts and one pair of trousers. It’s tragic to see so many such young people going morally astray and being rudderless in the cruel world of migrant Sicily.
It’s a common sight to see African migrants walking around with their packs of belongings, rather like our elderly brethren and sisters in Riga, Latvia; but Sicily is over 40 degrees C in Summer, and some can only find winter clothing, and they wear this even in the heat as it’s all they can get.
Inevitably in such a situation, folks will be interested in the good news of the Kingdom. Our remit is to preach the Gospel, but it’s clear that we also have a duty to assist as we can. We obviously try to ensure that the welfare component doesn’t distort the message of the Gospel in itself. But only God is the judge of human motivations, and such motivations do change over time. With all these problems, we tried to do what we could. We contacted a long term contact, who got a copy of Bible Basics from us in 2009. We’ve remained in contact on and off. He shares our view on many things but hasn’t seen the need for re-baptism. He is an African migrant from previous years with a stable job, from when Africans could immigrate legally to Sicily. He has a group of other Africans he tries to teach, pray and sing with and he tries to help the newer migrants as best he can. We assisted him in renting a room which can be used as a base for them. It’s a disused shop in a very run down area of Syracuse, the port once visited by Paul.
We provided lots of water, rice and pasta. The original group he has built up are also settled migrants, but they are all working on minimum wage and limited as to how much they can assist the flood of new migrants. We felt they were very sincere and set them up to study Bible Basics as a group and to distribute the food and water provided. On the food and some of the bottles we placed our labels.
We also left them plenty of Bible Basics and NEV Bibles. On a subsequent visit we found that they have studied them, and we’re so thrilled that they have indeed become a refuge for some and that four women studied the material and wanted to be baptized: Queen, Joanna, Patience and Sonia.
Left: water, rice and pasta being taken to the rented room and above: a very tired mother feeds her child on out of date ‘Tuc’ biscuits, sitting outside their new shelter
The Group singing and thanking God
Most of the migrants are young males and many of them have terrible stories of torture in Libya where they were held under ransom and tortured. The women of course are raped and kept as sex slaves, often only released if they get pregnant. If they don’t drown on the way, these people then arrive in Sicily. They have a whole range of health issues, and the women are often pregnant and malnourished. The humble room rented provides shelter for only a very few. One woman was grateful just for a chair and water. She sat on one of the chairs outside the hired room on the street feeding her child from out of date ‘Tuc’ cracker biscuits from a supermarket, with water in a bottle from the room, with her wearing a child’s Mickey Mouse T-shirt. They are indeed vulnerable people, very easily abused by the Mafia-controlled gangs who operate in Sicily with impunity.
Another woman was pregnant from her rapes experienced in Libya. The child appeared to be upside down in the womb, requiring Caesarian section. But with no documents or money, the crowded hospitals are not inclined to take in migrants. We did get her into a hospital where she delivered the child safely. We were able to give her an NEV New Testament and Introducing Bible Basics and pray with her. She was so excited to have these to read and study. There was graffiti on the walls of the ward, crucifixes and statues of Mary everywhere, and the nurses generally didn’t speak English.
What happens to these children? Some of the women we baptized were caring for babies of African women they had taken pity upon, as often they are just dumped under the bushes after birth. All this is in the EU... with tourists flying back on Easyjet talking about the great time they had on vacation, without a clue as to what is really going on.
Some of the women had been living in an unfinished, derelict garage near a beach. After Bible study at the hired room, we went there to change and have a final prayer and a few words before the immersions. As you can see, in the above photo, all they had was a discarded piece of plaster board for privacy; no water, toilet or electricity. They carry babies on their backs African style.
Despite their total poverty, we were able to provide white clothes and some hair styling for their baptisms. We emphasized that despite what they had been through, they were the spotless bride of the Lord Jesus and were giving themselves to the One who so loves them.
We went from there to the beach, where a group of about 15 sunbathing white Italians gathered around us as we did the baptisms. Usually such local folks have been abusive and racist, feeling their country is being overrun by the migrants, but these folks were utterly fascinated and respected our sincerity. They took videos of us and clapped after each immersion.
Despite the noise of screaming babies you can see the spirit of Christ was there, and the extreme, desperate sincerity of those women, now our sisters, expressed in their body language. As you can see, one of the sisters is heavily pregnant but was all the same so eager for baptism. Please pray for her delivery and for whatever will happen to the child.
The need and potential is huge, and the need is the call, as we have often said. In Western medicine these women would all need post traumatic stress counselling, but they hardly have water, food and a chair to sit on. We really appreciate your generosity which has enabled us to assist so far as we have.
These sisters are devoted to God’s word and His Son. The most prized possession of one of them was a tattered King James Version Bible she had brought from Nigeria, her only possession to survive her traumatic journey. She had highlighted her favourite verses, so relevant to those who crossed the Sahara to be raped and imprisoned in Libya before nearly drowning on the sea crossing to Sicily:
“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.” ... “Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God, and save me from bloody men.” ... “They answered Joshua, saying, All that thou commandest us we will do, and withersoever thou sendest us, we will go. Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God”.