Italy: J. Has a Deathly Gaze. You Can Read in Her Eyes the Dramatic Events She’s Endured

J. is 25 years old. She’s one of the survivors of the shipwreck on 6 November, 30 miles off the Libyan coast. Two days later, they landed in Pozzallo. I meet her at the harbour, together with the rest of the EMERGENCY team. She gets off the ladder that connects the ship to the dock with difficulty: we go towards her with our cultural mediator and, supporting her, take her to our doctors who provide first aid. J. hasn’t been eating for 3 days, she has a deathly gaze and you can read in her eyes the dramatic events she’s endured, and her desperation.

J. was not alone in that shipwreck: her beloved 3 year old baby girl was with her. She was holding her hand on the boat, but she slipped away as they began to sink and disappeared from her sight. During the visit, I stand by her and ask her if she’s hurting anywhere. After pointing to her throat, I ask her if she hit something or was hit, and she whispers “It hurts because of all the screaming.” Tears start to pour down her face. I hold her tight in a hug. I felt like I was hearing words from the Book of Exodus. Three thousand years later, we are witnessing another exodus, which brings other stories of slavery, hunger, forced labour, suffering, misery and oppression. Another outcry, another sea where the oppressed are losing their lives. There are no chariots or horses chasing them, but patrol boats from the Libyan coast guard instead. To us, who treat wounds on their bodies and in their souls, there is nothing left to do but tell their stories.

We take J. to the A&E department for an in depth check-up. After two days, I join her at the Centre in Pozzallo, curled up in bed in the foetal position, her eyes wide open staring at the door. I sit on the floor and ask: “How are you today?”. She recognises me, points at her hand and says: “How could I lose my daughter? I held her hand the whole time.” J. feels lost. She told me that she’d already wanted to go back to her country when she was in Libya, but it wasn’t possible. Now she doesn’t want to live in Italy without her beloved child. J. is still hoping that her child was rescued by the Libyan coast guard and is in Libya now. We’re hoping that too, beyond reason, and in the meanwhile we keep standing by her, holding her hand and trying to give her psychological support.

Alessandro, EMERGENCY psychologist

Emergency UK

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