Boat People To Wedding Bells: An Italian Fairy Tale For Three African Immigrants

How three African men escaping the civil war in Libya braved the Mediterranean Sea on a small fishing boat to find love in the most unexpected circumstances.

Migrants arriving in Lampedusa (Sara Prestianni)
Migrants arriving in Lampedusa (Sara Prestianni)
Francesco Moscatelli

SANTO STEFANO DI CADORE - Last year, three men escaped the civil war in Libya, braving the Mediterranean Sea on a crowded fishing boat. They spent four days with no food and water, huddled together with hundreds of other desperate people. They landed on the small Italian island of Lampedusa, and were eventually sent northward to an immigrant shelter in the Dolomite mountains.

Ten months later, in the small village of Santo Stefano di Cadore, north of Venice, the three men are married to three local Italian women.

The three couples will no doubt have to face the prejudices of a region where the Northern League anti-immigration party is very popular, having gathered 27.7% of the votes at the last elections.

Jude Thaddeus Ejims is a 32-year-old mechanic from Nigeria. Sainey Badie is a 31-year-old English teacher from Gambia. Ousmane Aboubacar Malam Sidi is a 33-year-old worker from Niger. Each had moved from their Sub-Saharan African homelands to work in Libya, under Muammar Gaddafi's regime. Like many other immigrants, they fled to Italy because they "had nowhere else to go."

On May 13, 2011, their lives took a surprising turn. For weeks, boats had been arriving to Lampedusa from the African coasts. The immigrant shelters were full and the Italian Civil Defense decided to dispatch the thousands of new arrivals across the country. That day, at 4.30 p.m. the mayor of Santo Stefano di Cadore, Alessandra Buzzo, answered a phone call from the local Civil Defense representative who was looking for a town willing to welcome a bus of 90 African people for few days. Half of the village wouldn't hear of it. Someone started a Facebook page calling for "No refugees' in the area.

Despite the criticism, rife even amongst her allies, the mayor decided to accept the group. Four hours after the phone call from the Civil Defense, the local sports center was already surrounded by protesting locals. But inside, a group of volunteers was getting ready to welcome the refugees with beds and warm meals.

Not a ploy

The three love stories -- between Jude and the 28-year-old daughter of the mayor, Chiara De Monte; Sainey and Veronica Buzzo, 36; and Ousmane and Marika Buzzo, 34 – began almost as soon as the group arrived.

Their respective romances blossomed in the following months, even though the three men had to move to other northeastern Italian towns, where they fought to obtain their refugee status, which was quickly denied. The answer to the question that immediately arises: No, their marriages aren't a ploy to get Italian citizenship. The three women's friends swear that the couples' joy, the parents' tears, everything was real, and not put on for show.

"From the first evening, Jude caught my attention because he was one of the warmest and nicest people of the group. We immediately bonded", says Chiara, a social worker. "After a few weeks, he wrote me a letter, declaring his love. At the beginning, I was a bit skeptical, in part because this wasn't really the best context for a relationship and in part because I was a bit concerned by the other villagers' opinion. But in the end, I realized that our bond was stronger than any doubts."

Marika Buzzo explained her choice in an interview with the local newspaper "Gazzettino": "I am peaceful, because I know that Ousmane is a very sweet person. Soon we will visit his family and all his brothers, whom he has not seen for years, in Niger. I'm Catholic, and he's Muslim. But that's not a problem. We have a lot of respect for each other."

The new brides' first concern is finding a job for their husbands. None of them have a driver's license, and they are still struggling to speak Italian. Moreover, the economic crisis has hit the region hard. "For the moment, Jude and I live in an apartment here in Santo Stefano. We have not yet decided to stay or to move out," says Chiara. "There are still many prejudices; looking towards the future is not easy. We are happy, but the fact that there were more Africans than locals in the town hall for the ceremony is not a good sign."

Read more from La Stampa in Italian

Photo - Sara Prestianni

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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