Can you tell me about your passage when you went the first time and how did you arrive there [in Sicily]?
Riadh: I went with my friends, we bought the equipment together and stood two weeks waiting for the perfect weather. We have a friend living in Milano, so we asked him about the weather in Italy. He called us back one day and said that the weather was fine in Italy. It was in the year 2000. So we left from there, from this place[ points at the rock we are standing at ]. We had bought a sodiak and 120 liters of fuel. And we had bought the engine. After 3 kilometers it went down. We stood there 2 hours fixing it. We left from the coast at 4 in the morning. After 2 hours of reparing, it worked again. When we arrived to the international waters the sea was shaking a lot. We where going on 120 (direction) but when the water was difficult we went to 90, towards Pantelleria. 10.30 the water was calm again, so we turned to 25 and we went to Mazara (del Valo). Just before we arrived to Mazara one and a half kilometer before, the Italian coastguards found us. They took us, they asked us from where we are so everybody gave a different nationality. One from Morocco, one from Algeria, because if we would say directly from Tunisa they would send us back immediately. So they took us to the doctors and they made a complete medical test. After that they took us to the Centro (CPT) for detention. We stood five days and they held examinations during all of the five days. But we kept the same speech and everybody said something different than the reality. After five days they let us out.
Why do you think they let you out (of the CPT)?
Riadh: There were these people from Nigeria. They were a lot, 1500 people came in a big boat so the Centro was so full that they had to let us go to have place for those people there. There were a lot of dead people! It was a big fisher-boat. There were kids and women on board, even one woman giving birth to her baby on the boat but there were a lot of dead so they let us out and put these people inside instead. So from Mazara we went to Milano. I spent two months in Milano.
After that where did you go?
Riadh: I went to Milano, I stood a few days with a friend there and after that a friend of mine called... Makram called me and asked me where I was. I said „I am in Milano.“ So he said „why don t you come to my place in Lyon. I will wait for you at the station.“ So I managed some money and I went there by train. Once I was in Ventimiglia they catched me again. So they took me back to Milano. I stood there (in the CPT) one month and 20 days and after that they sent me back to Tunisia.
That happened all in the year 2000?
Riadh: Yes, in 2000. After that we tried again to do it .I tried it five times, from 2000 to 2005. The 2nd time went the same way, everybody gave 300 Dinar, then we bought the equipment and we left, this time in 2003 they didnt catch me. They caught us on the land not in the sea. Some friends from Kerouan came to me, we left with 6 people - we bought the equipment and we left. When we left we didnt go to the peak but we took 35 directly to Mazara.
What does that mean 35?
Riadh: You need a compass. You can’t go in the sea without that, because when you arrive to the international water you see only sky and water and in addition to that you get more and more dizzy and don´t know any more where the boat is going to... to there or there or there... or any direction... So we bought the compass for 120 Dinar and we put it on the 35 so it takes us to Mazara. If you put it on 90 it takes you to the peak, to Pantelleria. And 25 would take us to France in the direction of Lyon. And the second time we put it directly on the 35. We arrived there and everything was fine. Once we landed we walked around one kilometer and then the carabinieri arrested us. They took us right away to a place called Brindisi. We stood there (in the CPT) and they knew that we where Tunisians. So they wanted to take us back to Tunisia. There was a Tunisian guy working with them there (in the CPT). He came to us and asked us from where we were and so on and he said “I will help you but just tell me from where you are.” That’s what he said. So that guy said to a friend of mine that he will give him the papers and let him go and he was so happy about it that he said to him that we all came from Tunisia and told him even the exact place. So what we did then was that everybody was planning to do something bad to run away. I had a walkman, I took out the batteries and made a paste out of it and covered it with the plastic of a cigarette package. Then I swallowed it and I was hitting myself so that blood came out. And after that I lost consciousness. Right away they took me to the hospital. I spent a night there. So I spent the night in the hospital and the next morning I was escaping. Everyone of my friends did something different- one was drinking shampoo, so that they would take him.... Everybody did something different just to take us to the hospital because the hospital in Brindisi was easy to escape from. So I left to Napoli. I went to Napoli, I met a friend of mine there I stood three months working with roses. One Saturday we didn t have to work. In the afternoon we went to drink some beers. I was sitting in the bar and suddenly one Algerian guy came to me and bothered me so I had a fight with him. He broke a bottle on me. In the middle of the fight the police came so they got me again. They took me to Tunisia right away.
Why do you want to go to Italy?
Riadh: I want to go to Italy mostly for adventure not specially for working, I like adventure. If I wanted to stay I would have stayed, but I like adventure, I like going abroad. I like to go somewhere else especially over the sea. nheb dimma nemschi (proverb: I always love to go).
So you tried it a third time?
Riadh: The third time I left from Haouria, not from here. We where 70 in a big boat. In the international waters the big boat had a hole, so the water was coming in. We had a pump for the fuel and we cut it and used it to put the water out. Until an Algerian ship was passing by, so we were shouting for help with t -shirts and they turned around us until they came to us with a small boat. So they asked us “what’s going on?” and we told them what was happening. Right away they called the police, and first there was a helicopter coming and then the coastguard came to us with a big boat and they took us on their boat. We had medical examination so the coastguard came and after one hour and a half they brought us to a big boat in which they took us. Immediately they questioned us. We were so mixed... from Algeria and Morocco and many other countries. They started asking us and we had 8 days interrogatory. They brought me to the Tunisian counselor and they started to ask me from where I am, who took the money, who was the person and so on. So I said that we all bought the ship and that we all came together. He said if you tell me who is organizing it I can set you free. But I couldn’t tell him, if I would say it, that guy would get long years of prison and especially over there (Italy) the judgement could be really hard for these kind of things. So I was insisting about my speech. After that I was detained for 1 month and 20 days. The last day before leaving, the policeman handcuffed me and they took me to the airport of Roma and they sent me back to Tunisia.
The fourth time I left from here (points at the rock). I left with a guy and three girls. We left from here, like usual we bought the equipment but as soon as we had bought the equipment, the Tunisian police caught us. So we escaped and we got only two of the three girls. They interrogated them and after that they let them go. So I went back to meet them in Kelibia in the same night and the same night we left. We left to the peak.
We left around 2.30 in the night. So we went out from here and there we found many Tunisian boats so we stopped and waited because if they see us they sell us.... they betray on us to the Italians, so after one and a half hours some of them went to Haouaria and some to Kelibia. So we continued, the sea was getting difficult but these girls didn’t know and they were eating bread. It was the first time they did that. So they were throwing some bread in the water and suddenly some dolphins came. In general they don t do anything, they were just playing but the girls were so afraid... they were so much shaking and afraid until the boat was almost upside down. Two of them lost consciousness so I put full gas in the motor. When I found them sick I didn’t want to finish the whole distance so I went directly to the peak of Mazara. Two of them lost consciousness. In Mazara I found a Tunisian, a mechanic who fixed boats, and I explained the situation to him. So he called the police and they took them to the hospital. They questioned us for 8 days and afterwards they took us to Mazara. They asked me again and I gave them a wrong name but they got my information already there and they said but you came already three times we have your name. They knew me right away that time, I barely stood twenty days there. After twenty days they sent me back... I’m known over there (laughing).
And what about the last time?
Riadh: The last time I left from Kelibia- down the mountain of Kelibia. We were 2 girls and 3 boys we went directly to Mazara. With the time I knew the way- it’s like going to Tunis. It was so easy. We arrived there with no problem. We stood together in a house of a friend. After that everybody called their friends and they came to get them and I left to Milano. And then a friend of mine said „let’s go to Spain we can collect tomatoes there.“ An Algerian guy took us there because we were illegal. Hatha harkina (that’s how harraga are)! We left Italia, we were at the frontier, when the car broke down and we were trying to fix it when the police came. So they got us again. We stood with the police 8 days in Spain and after that they send us back to Milano. As soon as I arrived in Milano my pictures were there- they had made over 20 pictures of me so they knew right away who we were.
Can you tell us the story again, the one when you told the police you were Tunisian and they didn’t believe you?
Riadh: A funny thing happened in 2003. It was during the third trip. They (the police) took us to make pictures, they asked me from where I was, I said „I am Algerian“ they saId „no“. I had long hair by then, they took pictures. One policeman had fun with me so he gave me his uniform to make pictures with it and he asked me again from where I was and I insisted that I was Algerian. I said I was called Ahmed el Haschi. After that he said „No, you are not Algerian- you are from Albania.“ But I said „how could I be from Albania and I talk Arabic?“ He answered that there are many Albanians who talk Arabic. I said „you wanna take me to Albania?- I will go there no problem.“
After they got me with the fingerprints they were insisting about my case in a very strange way. They said you are Tunisian neither Algerian neither Maroccian. So I said no I am Algerian for sure. Because the Algerians, they don t take them home. Every Algerian they let them go because their president doesn’t except them any more. Here (in Tunisia) when they take us back the president gets for every person 3000 euro. On the other hand the Algerian president he says „this is not working how comes that you take them to Europe and there they become bad- you put them earrings and they learn about drugs and all that staff and after that you bring them back to my country. This are not my kids any more.“ He (the Algerian president) rejects them. Not like here. Here the president takes money from it. Even the people with their papers there. He would like to take money from them too (laughing).
How was the law before?
Riadh: You got arrested for one night and after that you paid 150 Dinar. Now it ‘s not like that any more- you get prison for that. When they arrest you in the Tunisian water, it’s from 3 to 5 years and it could go up to 15. But when you enter the international waters and they catch you there like in Italia they arrest you for one night and you pay 300 Dinar. But when they arrest you in Tunisia the judgement is really bad.
So are you planning to do it again?
Riadh: Sure,I will try it again, it could happen at any moment. The last year they send me an invitation to stay somewhere in Italy and I could leave and everything would be fine, but I prefer to stay at home at the moment... and anyway, I have my way to do it (means over the sea).
So you think about going to Italia to work there or settle down there or what are your plans?
Riadh: It’s true that there are conditions that oblige you to go sometimes but the best thing for me is to discover something new. It’ s very difficult to find somebody who thinks like me. But most of the people go for working because conditions here are really hard and people would like to work. I don’t believe that somebody thinks about crossing the sea like going for a walk in the park because at any moment one could loose his life. So for sure one goes and hopes to stay there. Most of the people go to find a job. But in the end everybody has his own idea about this subject.