Monday

27th Jun 2022

Interview

2015: Refugee crisis - the Malian poet who got asylum

Soumaila Diawara was the leader of a far-left wing youth movement in Mali in 2012.

Three years later he was granted asylum in Italy, where he now works as an interpreter for a prefecture in Rome.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Soumaila Diawara: 'Europeans need to know that the problems of Europe are not due to Africa, or that the problems in Africa are not due to Europe' (Photo: Soumaila Diawara)

He also teaches school kids about migration and has published two books of poetry in Italian.

"Europeans need to know that the problems of Europe are not due to Africa, or that the problems in Africa are not due to Europe," says Diawara.

"The problem is due to a system that exploits," he says, noting both Africans and Europeans have been victims.

Born in 1988 in Mali's capital city of Bamako, Diawara's story is one of political persecution in a country wrecked by poverty and violence.

Mali's military coup in early 2012 forced him to flee, after authorities started arresting political activists, sentencing some to death.

Diawara had been in Burkina Faso at the time of the arrests in Mali. His home was ransacked. Unable to return, he went to Algeria and then eventually to Libya.

Arrested in Libya, he spent ten days in a notorious detention centre in Tripoli before paying some €800 for his freedom.

He then packed onto a boat on Christmas eve 2014 along with others and arrived in Sicily.

"We were saved by a Maltese boat and transferred to an Italian one," he said.

Eight months later, in 2015, he was granted asylum in a country, Italy, that broadly viewed migration with suspicion.

Rallies were held in Rome against immigrants, as the far-right Northern League party was growing in popularity.

The year, 2015, is also seen as a pivotal turning point for the politics surrounding migration and asylum in Europe.

Some one million people, many of them refugees from the civil war in Syria, had sought sanctuary in a Europe that promised open arms.

Most arrived from Turkey before heading up through the Western Balkans and then towards Austria, Germany, Sweden and elsewhere.

Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel called it a "historic test" for Europe.

An EU plan to disperse some 160,000 arrivals throughout member states ended up generating tensions on quotas that still reverberates and divides some capitals today.

"Those who are proposing it, know full well it won't work," said Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban at the time.

It is a familiar refrain that has since scuppered many attempts to reform EU-wide asylum laws.

Today, the European Commission's 2020 proposal is more fixated on returns, and keeping people from leaving their countries in the first place.

Other efforts were made in Malta at a summit on migration in late 2015.

That meeting was followed up with a political declaration to set up a new EU Emergency Trust Fund, which now co-finances, among other things, the Libyan Coast Guard.

That coast guard returns to Libya anyone who attempts to leave the country by boat. Many are sent to detention centres, often run by rogue militia outfits where people are sometimes sold off into human slavery.

In one of his poems, Diawara weighs survival chances between hunger, war and crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

"In the desert of the sea," he writes, "the odds a little are higher."

This article first appeared in EUobserver's latest magazine, 20 years of European journalism & history, which you can now read in full online.
Turkey overshadows EU-Africa summit

With the Africa meeting over, EU leaders are turning to more pressing migration issues at home, with plans for another EU-Turkey summit.

Mali blames West for chaos in Libya

Mali's foreign minister Abdoulaye Diop told the EU in Brussels that the lack of vision and planning following the Nato-led bombing campaign in Libya helped trigger the current migration and security crisis.

Interview

2018: Juncker: Far-right 'never had a chance' against the EU

The far-right rose in power over the span of 2017 and 2018. But for former EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, they never posed a real threat. "They are not right because their basic societal analysis is wrong," he said.

20 years of EUobserver

Our special anniversary magazine gives an overview of the major events of these past 20 years - and, for every event, we talked to one of the key players. It makes this magazine a document of recent EU history.

News in Brief

  1. Possible terror attack halts gay pride in Norway
  2. Belgian PM: Gas shortage requires joint response
  3. Bulgarian MPs set conditions for lifting enlargement veto
  4. Latvia: We need a brigade-size Nato force to 'feel safe'
  5. Deal reached on controversial energy treaty reform
  6. EU carbon emissions from energy up 6% in 2021
  7. Germany step closer to gas rationing
  8. Albania: EU 'disgrace' at lack of enlargement progress

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  2. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  4. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBHow price increases affect construction workers
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic think tank examines influence of tech giants

Latest News

  1. EU summit's uncertainty in the face of economic war
  2. Next winter's gas looms large at EU summer summit
  3. Ukraine becomes EU candidate after 120 days of war
  4. How to enhance EU cybersecurity
  5. Competing options for EU enlargement
  6. MEPs demand to exit 'ecocide treaty' after reforms 'fail'
  7. Finland optimistic in Turkey talks over Nato
  8. Hungary's global-tax veto seen as 'blackmail'

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us