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LA STAMPA

Winny And Nizar, A Lampedusa Love Story

Armed only with her baby bump and an album of wedding photos, Winny Khamiri of Holland is currently on the Italian island of Lampedusa where African immigrants arrive by the boatload, trying to rescue her Tunisian husband, scheduled for deportation.

The newlyweds in happier times
The newlyweds in happier times
Laura Anello

LAMPEDUSA - Winny Khamiri has long blond hair, freckles on her face, and quiet but determined eyes that seem to embody pure female strength. Six months pregnant, the 23-year-old Dutch hairdresser is here on the Italian island of Lampedusa on a rescue mission. The goal: to save her Tunisian husband, Nizar, who arrived here as part of the wave of would-be immigrants who make the perilous journey from the shores of North Africa in a desperate attempt to enter Europe.

Winny and Nizar Khamiri lived together in Tunisia until the outbreak of revolution, when she flew to Eindhoven, Netherlands where Nizar was supposed to join her soon afterward. But then, Italy decided that only Tunisian migrants who had arrived there by April 5 would be granted six-month temporary permits. Since that day, all other migrants have been repatriated.

This faraway political decision created a wall between husband and wife. When he applied for a Dutch visa, Nizar was rejected because he was unable to prove that he'd have a job and thus a means to support himself upon arrival. It is the same financial boundary that has stopped hundreds of Tunisian at the borders between Italy and France.

Now, Nizar is locked in an identification center of Lampedusa, where he has been listed for repatriation. This marks the second time he sailed from Tunisia in a desperate attempt to reach his wife and future son. The first time, he was sent back to Tunisia.

His story is hardly unique. Just the other day, another 30 people reached Lampedusa on tiny, flimsy boats – the standard means of transportation for migrants leaving from Tunisia. People leaving Libya tend to travel on huge ships.

Winny set out for her Lampedusa quest armed only with her six-month-pregnant belly and an album of wedding photographs. She and Nizar married on the Greek island of Kos, where they first met. Both worked for a resort complex. "It was love at first sight," she says. "I'm in love. I just want to spend every moment with him."

The wedding took place in September. In the photos she looks beautiful in her white wedding dress and he looks smart in his grey suit. The photos show their parents, their friends and the wedding cake. Now, Winny wants their happiness back. She took three planes – from Brussels to Milan, from Milan to Palermo, and from Palermo to Lampedusa. The island seems to her like a mixture of pain, death and hunger for life.

"I took my album to the center to prove that that Nizar is really my husband. I have lots of documents to prove it: the wedding certificate, the birth certificate, insurance and credit card papers," she says.

Her hand on her belly and a cap on her head, she marched along a long and dusty road to the center, under a burning sun. "I was so tired, but I was happy to see Nizar again," she says.

Winny was able to persuade the guards to let her see her husband. In recent days, mothers from all over Europe have arrived here to rescue their sons. Many have been turned away without a chance to even see their loved ones.

"I'm staying here until I will take you back. I'll wait as long as it takes," Winny said to her husband.

"I will take two, 100, 1,000 more boats to come back to you," Nizar replied.

Even the guards were moved.

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