“When I was saved in the Mediterranean Sea by the non-governmental organisation MOAS on September 29, 2014, my first thought was to physically survive. About eight years later, mere physical survival has given way to an ideal of life, where I am able to make a modest contribution in preventing many other people from experiencing what we had to experience and what led us to be called and recognised as refugees or migrants.

“That’s why I wrote a thesis on migration. I did it for us, survivors of the massacre that is still taking place in the Mediterranean and along the arid and unsafe paths in the Sahara, for the fallen along the way and, above all, for those who, directly or indirectly, can help reduce or stop this drama. Someone could say this is idealistic, pointing out that loving our neighbours is a beautiful thing but that there are laws that make borders impenetrable.

“An elegant way to reiterate the usual and well-known rhetoric of ‘the boat is full’. In other words, there is no place for migrants, no matter if the international legal status qualifies them differently, as asylum seekers or refugees. This observation is not a sign of realism, or of realpolitik. It is a sign of geopolitical, social and economic shortsightedness.”

These are the words with which Afana ended the discussion of his Master’s thesis in International Relations and European Studies at the University of Bari.

Afana is a young Cameroonian who had to face one of the most dangerous migratory routes in the world, that of the Central Mediterranean from Libya to Italy. Our lives crossed when the MOAS crew, active in the Mediterranean at that time, rescued him and the other people who were on the dinghy.

His Master’s degree, following his bachelor’s degree two years ago, makes us feel extremely proud. His achievements fill us with joy and it shows a story of commitment and personal fulfillment and is also a reminder to always strive for your dreams.

However, this story also reminds us that everything could have gone differently if there had been no one near the boat to save his life that day. And a sense of loss for those whose stories remain unknown because of a lack of access to #SafeAndLegalRoutes.

The absence of expansive measures such as family reunification, sponsorship, facilitated work and study visas and humanitarian corridors has left many with no choice but to rely on human traffickers.

Afana is a reminder to all of us that integration needs to stem both ways- Regina Catrambone

Europe has the capacity to open its doors to those searching for safety and we have seen how communities have come together to welcome Ukrainian people fleeing the war.

One might wonder why such stark numbers of displaced people has not invoked the same rhetoric facing migrants fleeing conflict and violence from the African continent, Syria, Yemen or Afghanistan.

Today, Afana, despite all the difficulties he has faced, has reached his academic goals. He has contributed to the country and the community has largely welcomed him. He has embarked, among others, on a path of growth.

After concluding his academic career and having contributed to the foundation of the Foreign Students Association of the Aldo Moro University and of Radio Libertà, he is preparing to open a restaurant serving African cuisine together with other young people.

His goal is to pursue a research doctorate.

Afana is an important symbol of hope for all those who wish to achieve their own dreams without having to endanger their own lives.

Afana is a reminder to all of us that integration needs to stem both ways, that communities must support those seeking sanctuary so that we may hear more migration stories with a happy ending.

This is an important story to share because it has the ability to inspire. It creates space for positive realities in contrast to the negative stories we sometimes read in the media.

My heartfelt congratulations to Dr Afana Bella Dieudonne.

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