Helping vulnerable migrants in their own language

Published: 27 October 2015 17:00 CET

By Italian Red Cross

Playing football was always Nabi Ousmane’s passion, a passion that he brought with him from the Ivory Coast to Italy. In Sicily, he found his other passion: to work for the Red Cross and offer vulnerable migrants the opportunity to be understood in their own language.

Ousmane was just a child when he decided he would search for a future outside of his country, a life that would hopefully include a football at his feet. After spending time in Libya, he decided to continue on to Europe. In the middle of the night on 26 August 2008, Ousmane set out for Italy. His two-day journey to the island of Lampedusa felt fairly safe. A far cry from the tragic sea journeys faced by vulnerable migrants today. This year alone, more than 3,000 people have perished on their journey.

Today, Ousmane says, many people are being exploited by ruthless traffickers. “Before 2011, the smugglers ensured at least minimum safety of their passengers because their revenues depended on people safely arriving at the shores. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to care about anyone’s fate anymore and make them travel on unsafe rubber boats or old vessels, even leaving them out to sea,” he says.  

Knowing how it feels to not be understood

Ousmane built himself a new life in Sicily. But he kept seeing desperate people arriving at the ports and felt that he had to help them. In the end, he became a cultural mediator for the Italian Red Cross in the seaside city of Catania. He welcomes people in a language that they understand when they are most vulnerable, and he helps them with what they need.

Having arrived in Italy as an unaccompanied minor, Ousmane knows how it feels when you are not understood. “In the community centre no one spoke my language. Once, I got sick and I had to take medicines, but because it was our holy month of fasting (Ramadan) I was not supposed to eat during the day,” he says. “I could not explain to the doctor that I just needed a painkiller to keep going until the night and so I had to take the medication. Now when I speak several languages I can help people that are facing the same situation of not being able to communicate their needs.”

People feel safe when they see a Red Cross

He believes that those arriving at Italian ports feel safe when they see the Red Cross emblem. Of the close to 140,000 migrants that have entered Italy this year, more than 80,000 have landed in Sicily.

“The Red Cross means one thing: help. It can be a smile, a word of welcome, a glass of water. When the migrants arrive and see us in Red Cross uniforms they know that we are there to help them,” Ousmane says.

When he is not working at the port helping others, Ousmane changes into another uniform: the blue and red of Scordia, a Sicilian football team. “Football makes me happy, just like the Red Cross. Both are my passions and offer ways to help both myself and others.”