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June 17th, 2018:

Una piccola storia di grande stupidità – A little story of great stupidity

Friday evening we accompanied to Nairobi airport two girls and three boys, all of them minors fully rehabilitated after years of living on the streets. Freshia, a thirty years old Koinonia’s social worker, travels with them, and they are headed to Wroclaw, Poland, where they were invited to the Brave Kids festival, a three-week meeting that is repeated annually with the participation of artistic groups of children from every European country. Ours is the only African group, due to the cost of the tickets. We were lucky that an association of Leszno saw our group last and decided to support us this year. It is the first time that our acrobatic team travels without me, and it is also the first time that we send two girls abroad. But we feel confident, because I saw in person last year how the Polish friends work, with enormous effort, to break down prejudices and cultural barriers and foster integration. Naturally the Polish embassy beore granting the visas required in impressive documentation – including the consent of the closest living family member and that of the school principal of each child, all certified by the Kenyan foreign ministry – of which Freshia has a copy in her handbag.

They leave at 4 am on the 16th, they arrive in Istanbul with Turkish Airlines, but when it comes to embarking for Berlin Tegel airport they get stuck, because, say the Turkish officilas, their visa is for Poland, not for Germany. Freshia explains that they have a Schengen visa issued after the Polish Embassy in Nairobi has seen their documentation and that Germany and Poland are in the Schengen area, and that last year another group of us had arrived in Berlin Tegel, where they had been received by Polish friends who had taken them to Wroclaw by car because Berlin is closer to Wroclaw than to Warsaw. No way. The officials of the immigration and the airline are adamant. “We have a treaty with the Germans that African refugees can not transit from Turkey“. “But we are not refugees, we have a visa”. “Yes, but there are new provisions”. Fortunately there is Whatsapp, Freshia calls Polish friends, they call me in a few minutes they se up Whatsapp group. We try to understand what are the imaginary new provisions.. We ask Freshia to let us talk with the officials. They refuse. The Polish friends contact the Berlin Tegel immigration and within half an hour receive an official response in an email, with the name and identification number of the official who signed, confirming that being both countries in the Schengen area our children can proceed immediately and will have no problems at arrival in Tegel.

Turkish officials also refuse to read the email. They refuse to talk to Tegel. They mention the new provisions that the Germans say do no exists, and the Turkish say the only solution is for the children to embark on a direct flight to Warsaw, but they have to purchase a new Istanbul-Warsaw ticket. The price is slightly lower than the return Nairobi Berlin. Freshia is tense, she tells me that she feels considered inferior, incapable to understand, less then a minor. She adds that the children are quite and have laid down to sleep among lines of departing passengers, wrapped in blankets made available by some airpot staff with a kind heart. Meanwhile, all negotiations are rejected. The Polish friends eventually decide to pay the cost of the new ticket, reserving the right to ask for a refund.

As I write, on the afternoon of Sunday 17, our dangerous Masai warriors – you see them in the impromptu show for the girls of Anita’s Home two hours before departure – should be flying to Warsaw. We had chosen together that they would start the show with a traditional Masai dance before an half an hour of acrobatics. In the right hand they should have the traditional Masai spear, but we decided they would buy some broomsticks in Wroclaw. But maybe someone has read their bad intentions in their eyes …

A tragedy? No, for heaven’s sake. Just an example of how arrogant little officials can display all their stupidity and ignorance. A symptom of how the racist messages continuously launched by Europe are received. This morning I was commenting with a Kenyan journalist Aquarius saga, and he told me “The message is always the same, and getting worse, and I feel it on me every time I have to go to Europe for work: Africans are not welcome, they are dangerous savages, probably sub-human “.

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