Italy's financial and fashion capital Milan has become an established transit point for refugees, especially for those escaping the brutal civil war in Syria, who make their way to northern Europe in the hope of rebuilding their shattered lives.
The city’s welcoming reputation has brought a flood of Syrians, and now the national and city authorities are calling for more solidarity from the EU to deal with the problem.
Milan’s majestic 1930s railway station is where the European journey begins for many Syrian arrivals.
Badraddine Alkrayem, an orthopaedic surgeon from Raqqa in northern Syria, arrived at the station with his wife and three children after an overnight train journey from Sicily.
The family paid people smugglers 15,000 US dollars to cross treacherous seas to get to Europe in a journey they dubbed the Voyage of Death.
“Milan is where our journey begins,” he told FRANCE 24. “From here we hope to reach our destinations, God willing.”
Alkrayem is one of over 16,000 Syrian refugees that have come through Milan since October last year. More than a third of the refugees are children.
‘We decided not to look away’
To help these refugees, Milan’s city council launched the Syrian Emergency project, coordinating various NGOs, charities and volunteers.
They register new arrivals, provide basic needs, medical assistance, children support and assign them a safe place to stay. Milan’s municipal resources are stretched to the limit.
Pierfrancesco Majorino, who is councillor for social policies on the city council, said the city could not stand by while entire families arrived with no food or shelter.
“We could have effectively not bothered about them, looked the other way and done nothing,” he said. “We could have let them roam around this station or elsewhere, leaving them at the hands of organised crime.
“Instead, we decided not to look away. We decided not to let a child sleep on the marble floor of this station.”
Most stay in Milan for five days before heading north
But Milan’s generosity may have added to the city’s problems, however, as the good news spreads fast.
Sami Tabbakh said he came to Milan on the recommendation of fellow refugees.
“We came to Milan because our friends suggested that we should come here because there is shelter, there is some food that can be provided free,” he said. “We can find smugglers who can take us from Milan to Sweden, Germany and to all these places.”
While Milan has become a popular destination, it is just a stop-gap for most of these refugees and Syrians looking for a new life in Europe stay an average of five days in the city.
Alkrayem and his family are on the move again. They have tickets to Ventimiglia in the northwest of the country near the French border, and hope to go to France and maybe beyond.
They’ve come this far and are determined to rebuild their lives.