LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Kilap Gueye and Abdellatif Yakoubou arrived in Italy at two very different moments in history.
Gueye left Senegal and reached Sardinia in the early 2000s, where he established himself as a teacher and writer. Yakoubou, from Benin, landed on the island in 2014, at the start of what became Europe’s biggest migrant crisis since World War Two.
Their paths crossed when they joined ‘Nois’, a television news show set up by theater company Sardegna Teatro and local online TV channel Eja TV, to be hosted by migrants and to explore the challenges they face.
Nois, from the Sardinian word ‘us’, is the first video news show in Italy to be developed by migrants, and one of a growing number of migrant-led media projects across Europe.
“Italian mainstream media outlets usually offer a distorted image of the migration, feeding xenophobia, and putting distance between people,” said 46-year-old Gueye.
“This project gives us a chance to also show the positive side of things. People need information, not misinformation.”
The Nois editorial team includes reporters from Lebanon, Russia, Ukraine, Senegal, Benin, China and India. The team is coordinated by two Italian journalists, Valentina Bifulco and Guido Garau, who provide training and guidance.
The news team is based in Cagliari, Sardinia’s capital on the south coast that the novelist D.H. Lawrence compared to Jerusalem for its steep streets and golden domes: “strange and rather wonderful, not a bit like Italy”.
“Cagliari is geographically closer to Africa than mainland Italy,” said Massimo Mancini, Sardegna Teatro’s director, in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“The majority of migrants who reach Sardinia don’t really want to be here. It’s interesting to see their faces when they realize that they are on an island, and that they still need to cross the sea to reach their family and friends.”
For the new arrivals, Nois offers essential information.
“How to enroll for a free language course, find a soup kitchen or a free internet connection is vital knowledge for someone who does not have any guidance,” Mancini said.
Nois also showcases the culture and traditions of Sardinia’s newly diverse communities, among the population of around 1.6 million. Foreign-born residents make up around 3 percent of the population, and 6 percent of local businesses are owned by migrants, according to a study by Italian research center Idos, quoted in the local media.
Diversity is not new to Sardinia, an island whose unique cultural identity merged with other civilizations, from the Phoenicians to the Romans to the Spanish empire.
“I think it’s important to show the differences and similarities between communities, as there’s always some sort of fear to meet the other,” said Nadine Naseredine, a Lebanese reporter who moved to Sardinia about five years ago.
“This is another way to break the ice and allow people to get to know each other.”
Like other media projects developed by migrant and refugee communities across Europe, such as Calais’ Jungala Radio, and Austria’s Refugee TV, the Nois team regards the venture as a way of regaining control of their narrative.
“It’s important to help people understand, to give them a first-hand account of the everyday life of a migrant,” said 18-year-old Yakoubou.
“The people who can best explain this kind of situation are the ones who had to leave their countries to come here to Italy.”
The chance to show the reality of a migrant’s everyday life is also key to curbing the misconception of many young economic migrants who see Europe as the new Eldorado, said Gueye.
“When we get back home we don’t like to talk about the challenges, the sacrifices and the difficulties. Many migrants convey a distorted image of themselves to their community,” he said.
“If we want to break this cycle we need to ... show the reality,” he said.
Nois, with funds by the ministry of culture and tourism, ran a series of regular programs across spring and summer 2016.
Sardegna Teatro is currently trying to source more money to keep the project alive. The platform is active on social media, producing special editions during cultural events such as literature and film festivals.
Nearly 1.5 million migrants reached Europe in 2015 and 2016, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). As the number of newcomers grows, migrant-led media outlets are flourishing across the continent.
“Three years ago there was no discourse, no media outlets led by migrants. Today migrants are taking control over their own narrative across Europe,” Larry Macaulay, founder of the Refugee Radio Network (RRN), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
Since its inception in early 2015, RRN has established a partnership with seven radio stations in Germany and Austria.
Radio is the simplest and most accessible media, while the development of video content requires more post production, funds and time. “At the moment, RRN TV makes one episode every three months,” said Macaulay.
“In spite of the difficulties ... it takes just a smartphone to turn a witness in a reporter,” he said. “Looking forward, I don’t see these movements dying out. I see the newcomers, their energy, their passion. When I look at them I see a prospect.”
Reporting by Claudio Accheri; Editing by Ros Russell