Migrants Scale High Mountains and Dangerous Roads Just to Advance

View near Bardovecchia, Italy (Photo by Danny Nicholson / Flickr.com)

Piedmont’s Val di Susa, on the border between Italy and France, is a much-used – but dangerous – route for migrants who arrive in Italy but want to reach another European country.

The town of Bardonecchia, Italy on the map, marked with orange circle (Source: OpenStreetMap)
The town of Bardonecchia, Italy on the map, marked with orange circle (Source: OpenStreetMap)

Migrants arrive in the Italy-France border region after landing on the south Sicilian Island of Lampedusa and then traveling to Oulx and Claviere, two popular mountain resorts near Turin, which are only a few kilometers away from the border town of Bardonecchia. Even at the risk of dying on these mountains they come in the hope of crossing to France.

Record Numbers in New Arrivals

In the past two months a record number of migrants – around 12,000 people – have arrived here. In the whole of 2022, an estimated 16,000 people passed through the area.

According to reporting by Italian news agency ANSA, the Alpine rescue team often has to intervene: during the night of September 20, they rescued a group of migrants stranded at 2,300 meters. Nobody was hurt on that occasion, but people have died during the attempt to cross the border.

 

The paths used by migrants to reach France are varied and not all migrants know those used by smugglers.

 

Afghans, who are used to the mountains, are more likely to take the highest routes, rescuers said. However, many of them have also been rescued after being blocked by hypothermia.

Accommodation Insufficient

A shelter run by Bussolino parish priest Father Luigi Chiampo can accommodate up to 80 people but has been dealing with daily arrivals of 150 to 200 people since July. Many have reached Italy by boat.

“The situation is dramatic”, Chiampo said. “The logistical center of Bussoleno, which has about 100 places, is able to help us,” noted Father Chiampo. “But there are people there who apply for asylum and want to stay in Italy. We are exhausted, there are people who sleep on their feet. We can’t do more than this and it is normal to have one thousand problems, from security issues to battles between the poor for a dish of pasta,” he added.

UNHCR Trying to Help Out

In January 2022, the Italian representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Chiara Cardoletti, was on mission to Val di Susa, in north-western Italy, to gain fuller insight of the situation at the Italy-France border. In 2021, over 14,000 refugees and migrants, including increasing numbers of Afghan and Iraqi nationals are estimated to have moved through Val di Susa, compared to some 1,450 in 2020.

During her mission last year, the UNHCR Representative met with authorities as well as with civil society organizations and volunteers providing services to refugees and migrants in Oulx and Claviere. These included the Mountain Rescue Service, who provide lifesaving assistance to persons attempting to move onward to other European countries via perilous mountain trails across the Alps, and the Diaconia Valdese, who partner with the Danish Refugee Council to provide refugees and migrants moving through the area with information on asylum and other relevant procedures.

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