Italian refuge helps migrants crossing the Alps to France

·2-min read

The refuge at Oulx, a little town in northwest Italy, has since 2018 been providing shelter for migrants trying to cross the Alps into France.

It is run by the NGO Talita Kum, which was founded by a local priest, and has about ten beds for those who would otherwise be sleeping rough.

Every evening, dozens of migrants take the bus from here to the village of Claviere, where they wait until nightfall to try to walk the mountain paths to France.

Taher, a 30-year-old from Tunisia, one of those who donned boots, hats and gloves to try their luck through the last of the snow last week, is hoping to join a family member in France.

"There was no future for me in Tunisia," he told AFP.

Zana, a 20-year-old Kurdish student from Iraq, said his dream would be to get to Britain.

But he added: "It doesn't matter in which country as long as I can be safe."

Other refuges exist on the other side of the border, where thousands of people have come through in recent years, including increasing numbers of families.

Previously most were from sub-Saharan Africa, but aid groups are reporting many Afghans and Iranians now.

Many are turned back by police, who have been accused of being heavy-handed with aid workers in France.

"The French police do their job, they try to stop migrants," said Luigi Chiampo, the priest who set up Talita Kum, which runs the Oulx refuge.

"Sometimes the agents go into the woods to look for migrants in transit to stop the flow. At other times, the police just guard the main roads. Everyone is doing their job."

He is not the only one in Oulx helping out. Piero Gorza, a 66-year-old anthropologist, hosted a family with a baby who was 22 days old.

"The mother had given birth alone, in a wood between Slovenia and Croatia. This is the situation of migrants passing through here," he said.

Some people give up trying to get across the mountains, and are taken back to the refuge by Red Cross volunteers -- only to try again another night.