This article tells the story of Yahya, a young man who escaped an abusive father in rural Gambia and underwent a harrowing journey through Northern Africa, eventually arriving in Sicily in 2013. At the age of 16, Yahya was rescued by the Italian coastguard from a boat in the Mediterranean on its way from Libya. Yahya had suffered abuse by his father in Gambia, lost his mother at the age of 13, and had not been permitted to attend to school. After hearing about a neighbor’s experience working in Spain, Yahya determined to escape to Europe. Yahya was one of 5,000 unaccompanied migrant and refugee children who arrived in Italy that year, yet the Italian government did not make any special provisions for these children, placing them in reception centres along with adults. From these centres, many children fall “into the hands of criminal gangs - traffickers who coerce them into street crime or prostitution, or entrap them as cheap labour in the fields of southern Italy.”
Carla Trommino, a lawyer “appalled at the conditions in some of Sicily's reception centres,” developed a program to match unaccompanied migrant and refugee children with Sicilian families who volunteer to become their legal guardians. As legal guardians, these Sicilians can take the children out of the reception centres for day trips, register the children for health care and help them apply for residence or asylum in Italy. For Yahya, this program allowed him not only to find a mentor and adult he could trust but also helped him to find a new career cooking in the kitchen of a new Afro-Sicilian restaurant.