Inside an Immigrant Refugee Camp in Italy


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Inside an Immigrant Refugee Camp in Italy

I gave a camera to a Nigerian immigrant who ended up in a refugee camp in Sicily after crossing the Mediterranean from Libya in a fishing boat. The photos he came back with show what day-to-day life is like for refugees like him.

"I am 27 years old. Originally I came from Nigeria. I crossed from Libya to Italy in a small boat. One hundred and five people went with me, 103 of them survived."

These are the words of migrant number 220—or Louis, as he's known to his friends and family—one of the "lucky" survivors of a group of around 800 who've crossed the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy over the past couple of weeks on a series of clandestine migrant vessels that sank off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa. I met Louis after stumbling upon a fenced-in refugee camp in the Sicilian harbor town of Trapani.


Louis told me he was living in Libya, but the situation there drove him to attempt the crossing to a better life in Europe. He survived, but two women on his small boat died before a commercial ship took them on board. Eventually they ended up in an old gym in Trapani. He spends his days here with 85 other young men, sleeping shoulder to shoulder on mattresses spread out on the floor.

The refugees are only allowed out of the gym for three hours a day. They spend the rest of their time indoors, killing time in the limbo they've wound up in. That still seems preferable to what they were trying to escape. "This is already better than Libya; I feel safe here and don't hear gunshots any more," explained Louis.

The men in the gym have no idea what will happen to them. They don’t speak a word of Italian and the guards in the camp don't speak English. They are totally in the dark about their status and told me I was the first person to speak English to them since they arrived.

Since the guards didn't give me any information and wouldn't let me enter the camp, Louis and I decided to meet outside the camp, where I gave him a disposable camera so he can show me what life is like inside. "I don’t do much inside," he told me, "mainly sleep and sit on the patio with other guys from Nigeria. And wait."

More stories about Lampedusa:

I Almost Died Traveling from Somalia to Lampedusa

Too Many Tunisians, Not Enough Toilets


Louis, a.k.a. "Number 220," who took the photos inside the Trapani refugee camp.Photo courtesy of Berta Banacloche / Transterra Media

The view through the door of the gym that's home to 86 refugees.

A migrant walks through the gym.

A refugee scavenges through garbage for valuables. Most of them left Libya in small fishing boats without much space for possessions.

Refugees pass time sitting on the patio of the gym. They are allowed out for about three hours per day; the rest of the time they spend inside.

Nigerian refugees congregate on the patio of the gym.

A refugee lays on his mattress in the gym.

Days are filled with idle time for most refugees.