CALTAGIRONE, ITALY —
Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, are unaccompanied girls and boys -- some have been sent by relatives to earn money, others orphaned or fleeing war.
Like many teenage boys, the young migrants - officially called unaccomapnied minors - dream of playing football for perhaps Barcelona or Chelsea. On the grounds of their temporary new home - a large old farmhouse in the mountains of Sicily - they practice for hours every day.
All the boys living at a shelter in Caltagirone made the deadly journey across the Mediterranean alone, with no parents or relatives.
Alassane from Ivory Coast made his voyage in the depths of winter. He said 15 people aboard the boat died.
He said his best friend died in his own arms. It was so cold, freezing. He hadn’t eaten anything. They were lost at sea.
Ivorian Wata Ali, 17, was orphaned as a boy. He said he and his older brother moved around looking for work, first to Burkina Faso then to Libya, where they got caught up in the civil war.
He said his brother went out to work everyday. He would come home now and then to eat, and then go back to work. Then, one day, he didn’t come back. Alis said he and a friend decided to go to Italy. They saved their money and got on the boat.
Daniele Cutugno runs the refugee center in Caltagirone.
Cutugno said when the boys arrive their state of mind is terrible because they are traumatized. They have passed through Libya, where they have experienced extreme violence. When they face certain death in Libya, they prefer to choose the risk of the sea journey where there is a possibility of surviving.
To many of the boys, Cutugno serves as a father figure.
Cutugno said very few of them have a clear idea about their next steps. "And with time, talking to them, their needs start to become clear - as teenagers, just like Italian teenagers - to become football players, to study, to work, so they can help their parents in their country. But a lot of their parents or brothers were killed.”
Rebuilding their lives
The boys are free to come and go, and leave the shelter if they wish to. But many choose to stay and find out if they’ll be resettled by the Italian government so they can start rebuilding their lives.
Shydou, of Gambia, said he’s very grateful for the help, but is keen to move on.
“I’m in this camp about four months now, and thank God. But I would like to move from this camp, to go to the community, so that I can know how I will build my future tomorrow," Shydou said.
The boys’ status as unaccompanied minors gives them a better chance of being allowed to stay in Europe. Until that decision is made, the hilltop home offers safety and an opportunity to stop and rest a while on their journey to find a better life.