The three journalists are from Somalia: a country plagued by civil war for more than two decades, and where independent media are subjected to repressive measures inflicted both by Islamic extremists and the government. Mohamed Bashir Hashi (Editor-in-chief) and Ahmed Abdi Hassan (journalist) work for Radio Shabelle , one of radio’s most respected and persecuted channels in the African country; whilst Mohamud Mohamed Dahir is the director of Sky FM. Today, the first two live in the Red Cross centre of Natoye, in the province of Namur, while Mohamed Dahir was greeted by another Red Cross center in Sint-Niklaas, in Flanders. Since their arrival in Belgium, the three journalists have said they are scared of having to return to Italy, for fear of being deported to Somalia, where in their view certain death awaits them.
The case of Mohamed Bashir Hashi, whose story begins in 2014, is emblematic. With a nervous glance and voice marked by fear and painful memories, Mohamed Bashir Hashi recalls the arrest, the mock trial, torture and sentencing to prison: all for interviewing a young journalist Fatima, who, when she was 18 years old, was raped and filmed (thus "publically ridiculed") by shadowy characters of the security forces of Somalia. "The thing I was asked the most”, he told Vita International during our meeting in Brussels, “was ‘who is that it helps you, and who are the governments who support you to do this work?’ ". I went for 21 days with no contact with anyone in the dark. Every night, I was systematically taken out and tortured. I was given no food or water for the first three days and, later, only one meal a day. I did not know why I was there and of what I was accused. The head of the court came often, and they asked me if I was aware of the seven counts of crime I was accused of, including plotting an attack on the nation: terrorism. But I had nothing to do with anything, and I knew nothing. After 21 days they brought me into the central prison, with other journalists and the real terrorists. It was seven months of preventive detention without trial. Our lawyers were threatened and told not to defend us because I was being called a terrorist. Some of our colleagues were released with bail, but we remained inside. A part of the federal government, made up of a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood that also manages the judiciary, were pressuring us".
I did not think that abroad I would have suffered that level of threat as well.
The version of events told by Mohamed Hashi is the same as was told in June, in Rome, in front of journalists during a training course on migration. However, there is a difference. Since then, the threats via Facebook have multiplied. "I did not think that abroad I would have suffered that level of threat as well. They are always the same : 'You will be killed as soon as you return to Mogadishu'. I am very concerned for the fate of my wife and my two children, who are forced to change home almost daily".
But there is another 'threat' that worries Mohamed Bashir: the Dublin Regulation. Arriving in Belgium on July 9, his request for his application for political asylum being treated in Belgium rather than in Italy will be discussed tomorrow by the Belgian authorities. " Three possibilities present themselves to him," says his lawyer, Alexander Loobuyck. " The first is that the Belgian State agrees to consider his asylum application; the second is that it refuses it, and orders for him to be sent to a center for voluntary repatriation; the third is imprisonment in a central retention centre, then followed by a forced return to Italy." The journalist of Radio Shabelle , however, has very clear ideas. "I would like to stay here, but there is a risk that I will be expelled in Italy, the first European country that I landed in from Somalia.”
But why does the journalist of Radio Shabelle, as well as his two colleagues, prefer to stay in Belgian rather than in Italian territory? A first answer comes from Shukri Said, a Somali journalist who writes a blog devoted to Somalia on Repubblica.it, and is also very committed to defending the rights of refugees - especially Somalis. "Unfortunately Italy is not in a position to accommodate asylum seekers, mostly Somalis, who are often forced to live in shelters in inhumane conditions, if not directly on the streets." And the problem does not only go back to 2015, where the landing of refugees on the Italian coast has broken all records. Already in 2010 he made headlines because of the housing scandal in the former Embassy seat of Somalia, where 140 Somali refugees were living in conditions that La Repubblica called of “indescribable degradation, without electricity, and with only two toilets available in an unbreathable atmosphere due to the stench, and the mice that circulated among the damp mattresses laid on the floor."
Unfortunately Italy is not in a position to accommodate asylum seekers, mostly Somalis who are often forced to live in shelters in inhumane conditions, if not directly on the street.
"The situation is very simple", summarizes Shukri Said. "The Italian State respects its own constitution which, in Article 10, provides for the reception of anyone who has reasons to flee from war or ethnic, political, or religious discrimination. But the fact is, after reception there's more. You get a piece of paper, where it says that you are a refugee, but then in person they say: 'Now it’s up to you to look after yourselves.’ And an even worse fate is reserved for asylum seekers”. In other words, sometimes it is better to seek asylum in a country other than Italy. This fact was also remembered in 2014 by the European Court, in a case involving an Afghan family in Switzerland, which had ordered their expulsion to territory Italian. "There is evidence that asylum seekers returned now to Italy from other European countries, according to the Dublin Regulation, run the risk of being left without a place to live, or are housed in unsanitary facilities, where violent incidents occur.” The judges of the Strasbourg Court had ruled to justify their condemnation of the Swiss government (known as the “Tarakhel judgment”).
Today the situation does not seem to have improved. On the contrary, in a report published in 2015 by the Italian Association for Legal Studies on Immigration with the support of the Open Society Foundation, it says that " for applicants and holders of protection that are sent back to Italy under the Dublin Regulation, in Italy at the moment, in fact, there is currently no national distribution plan for those who are sent back to the various shelters in the area."
For applicants and holders of protection that are sent back to Italy under the Dublin Regulation, in Italy at the moment, in fact, there is currently no national distribution plan for those who are sent back to the various shelters in the area.
To substantiate this claim is the sensational decision made on last 30th December by the Italian branch of Médecins Sans Frontières to leave the rescue and reception center of Pozzallo, and close the psychological support project in the welcome centres in the province of Ragusa. "Despite our requests, the precarious and undignified conditions - such as overcrowding, lack of legal protection and rights - with which newly arrived migrants and refugees are greeted, are likely to remain the reality of the future," said Stephen Charles, head of mission of Medicins Sans Frontieres' in Italy. "Under these conditions, our ability to provide an effective response to the medical and psychological needs of vulnerable people, such as pregnant women, minors and victims of torture, as reflected in the center of Pozzallo and the reception centers of Ragusa is extremely limited ". What's more, a long investigation by the weekly L'Espresso, published in January than a year ago illustrated how the system of Italian hospitality to the refugees was failing on all sides, and how the ‘Mafia Capital’ was not that the tip of the iceberg.
It is not only the poor reception conditions that Italy offers to refugees that are tormenting the nights of Mohamed Bashir Hashi and his colleagues. In Rome, they heard of the case of Muxtar Ablyazov, a Kazakh political dissident sought by the regime of President Nazarbaev, whose wife and daughter were arrested on the night between 28 and 29 May 2013, in a house near Casal Palocco, in Agro Romano (Rome province), by a team of undercover agents and officials of DIGOS and a police squad of Rome, alerted by a disclosure of the Embassy of Kazakhstan to the possible presence of Ablyazov there. With maximum secrecy, the two women were expelled and sent aboard a private plane provided by Kazakhstan back to their motherland. On July 18, 2013, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the expulsion, and pushed to find a similarity with the illegal practice of 'extraordinary rendition'.
This is a fate that Mohamed Bashir Hashi, Ahmed Abdi Hassan and Mohamed Dahir Mohamud do not want to meet.
Translation by Kimberley Evans.