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African migrants fear for future as Italy struggles with surge in arrivals

VENICE, Italy (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Three years after he risked his life crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Italy on a small boat crammed with migrants, 22-year-old Sow Muhammed can hardly believe his luck.

The former street hawker from Guinea now works as a caterer in Venice, rents his own apartment, and sends money back home regularly to his mother and siblings in the West African nation.

“I am happy I came to Europe, and my family is also happy,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation as he packed up leftovers at a training event for people who work with refugees, where he had served a menu which included traditional African dishes.

“I talk to my family frequently, ask them their needs, and help them however I can,” added the Guinean refugee.

Yet about 40 km (25 miles) from the city, standing outside a former army barracks housing hundreds of asylum seekers, Osayi, a 35-year-old from Nigeria, is preparing to head into the heart of Venice to beg for money from tourists.

“If I knew that things were like this, I would never have come,” said Osayi, who arrived in Italy six months ago, dreaming of providing a better life for his wife and children back home.

Muhammed and Osayi are among more than 600,000 migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, who over the past four years have made it to Italy, the main arrival point in Europe for people fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty in Africa.

Italy has won praise for its handling of these newcomers, yet a recent surge in arrivals has piled pressure on the government, shifted public perceptions amid growing tensions, and caused friction with other European Union countries.

Amid this political uncertainty in Italy – where asylum applications are slow to be processed, migrants are herded into detention centers and few job opportunities exist – tens of thousands of migrants, such as Osayi, fear for their future.

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