Monday, 22 June 2015

Just So Far...

Ventimiglia, a couple of days ago.

As usual, outside the big frontier railway station, the locals sit chatting over their espressos in the pavement cafés.  Inside, and as usual, across the concourse to the solitary ticket booth, straggles a meandering queue of tourists.

Although it depends what you classify as a tourist.

For, this year, the area around this border station in Italy is much more crowded. It has many new occupants and not just the ranks of regional carabinieri, armed, talking to each other animatedly and directing wayward jaywalkers just for something to do. Rather, most of the new occupants are a quiet swarm of bedraggled souls camped as well as they can on the flower verges and the roundabout.

These are the boat migrants from north Africa, the people who paid extortionate prices for desperate journeys across the Mediterranean to a strange and different continent to leave their difficult pasts behind.  They have made their way up through Italy and now they sit, waiting at the border into France.  And no-one is letting them go any further.

Other than a half hour wait at the ticket office, western tourists have no problem boarding the regular trains that start in Ventimiglia and head west across the frontier to Monte Carlo, Nice and beyond. But the boat people can't.  Even if they were able to stray onto the platforms and climb on board a train into France, at the first stop, Menton Garavan, every train endures a prolonged delay as the French Gendamerie Nationale makes a slow and deliberate inspection of each carriage. The migrants and asylum seekers aren't allowed into France.

Meanwhile, down on what used to be where Italy's SS10 joined up with the French N7 at the frontier, the crowds are even bigger.  Colourful clothes, flags and banners flap in the warm sunlight as photographers, television crews and would-be immigrants jostle for the shots. Local commerce is thwarted by inaccessibity that the crowds have brought. The road is jammed and any trans-border crossing is slow and very deliberate. You need the paperwork to cross. And the Africans haven't got any.  They hardly have anything.

But it's back in the marble brutalism of Ventimiglia railway station where the situation reveals its true hopelessness. A major corridor has been allocated as a dormitory, and bodies lie on the floor, resting, sleeping and waiting.  But waiting for what?  The hours pass, the people sit.  There is nothing to do. Physically, it is not squalid, but the dilemma is.  Desperation is palpable. And there’s no indication that frustration - or worse - won’t be imminent.

It appears that no-one is moving out of Ventimiglia soon.


copy/photos © Chris Wood-W3KTS June 2015

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