Red Cross in the heart and on the uniform: the history of Salaymana

Publié: 1 juin 2016 21:45 CET

By Alessia Lai, Italian Red Cross

“Life should pass sweetly,” says Salaymana. “No one should have to flee and risk their life in search of a better future.” His thought is simple: no one should be forced travel across the desert, undertake a dangerous trip across the sea, risk losing family and friends.

Red Cross people in Messina, Sicily, call Salaymana ‘brother’. He arrived in Lampedusa in 2013 from Ghana, before being transferred with a group of people to Messina, where a transit camp was set-up. “We arrived in Messina in the middle of the night, and the first people I saw were these guys with the Red Cross emblem,” he says.  

His trip across the Mediterranean was not easy. Four people died and the rest survived without food or fresh water. Another boat that set out alongside them never reached its destination and a few days after his arrival in Lampedusa, there came news of the Isola dei Conigli shipwreck, which sank killing hundreds of people.

That journey left its marks on Salaymana’s mind and heart: “When we arrived in Messina, I felt a deep pain. Red Cross people were my life-line,” he says.

There is no war in Ghana, but the reason Salaymana left his home is similar to that of many other Sub-Saharan people: lack of future prospects. After crossing Niger, he went to the Libyan town of Sabah, where he stayed three months before leaving for Tripoli. The war in Libya gave him no choice: “We could not go out searching for food, and the only possible choice was to cross the sea.”



His life is now a mixture of joy and sorrow. His brother fled from Ghana before him, and they ran into each other in the boat sailing toward Lampedusa, and toward a new life. When they arrived in Messina they received the sad news that their mother had died in Ghana. In that time of suffering, he received a lot of comfort from the Red Cross: “When you are suffering so much, you need to distract yourself from bad thoughts. And these people did it: when they saw me alone, they arrived to have a chat, a laugh,” he says. “We played and watched movies together, and I felt better.”

Salaymana is a big man with a quiet demeanor. He talks about his pain without embarrassment, and his eyes shine when he talks about his Red Cross ‘brothers’.

It was very hard for him to leave for a new host centre: “It is hard to understand our lives, our pain. You feel lost if you do not have someone to share with,” he says.

However, the friendship with the Red Cross never ended. He played rugby in Ghana and in Italy joined the team ‘Amatori Messina’ which gave him the opportunity to start a new life playing in the national second league. A few months ago,he moved to  ‘Rugby Reggio’ in  nearby Reggio Calabria. An Italian family has adopted him, and the Messina Red Cross ‘brothers’ still support him when he runs out on the pitch.

After receiving so much support at the most difficult time of his life, Salaymana decided it was time to give something back and so joined the Italian Red Cross as a volunteer. “I am very happy now. They are my brothers and the Red Cross is always in my heart.”