Salih was only 10 years old when the militia attacked his village in northern Darfur, Sudan. “It was evening. They shot and set fire to our huts. My parents were killed, but I managed to escape.” He arrived alone to Khartoum, where he remained until early this year, when his uncle, who lives in the U.K., sent him money to get there.
It took him over a month to travel through the desert in Libya and then north to the coast, where he paid for the trip through the Mediterranean on an overcrowded boat. “The Red Cross saved us and brought us to land,” Salih told us. He is now 16 years old and is still a child, when I met him in Ventimiglia last July. But instead of being helped to rejoin his uncle, he found himself trapped at the borders of Europe. And instead of finding safety on European coasts, he said he was beaten by Italian police, just hours after the arrival.
After his rescue, Salih and other newcomers were taken by bus to Taranto’s so-called “hotspot.” The hotspot approach, introduced in 2015 on the recommendation of the European Commission, is a system created to identify all newcomers, quickly assess their protection needs and either channel them to the asylum procedures or return them to their country of origin. The crucial point is the collection of fingerprints of all the newcomers in Italy for identification purposes. But people like Salih, who wish to seek asylum in other European countries where their relatives live, have a strong interest in preventing their fingerprint collection by the Italian authorities. If they allow it, they would be sent back to Italy — the country of first entry — if they attempt to continue the journey in the E.U.