Egypt's Little Italy is in Tutun

One-third of locals live in Italy while residents dream about it

06 August, 11:45

    (ANSAmed) - ROME, AUG 6 - (di Hossam Rabie) (ANSAmed) - TUTUN (EGYPT), AUGUST 6 - In August last year, Khalid, 23, finally fulfilled his dream to go to Italy. For three years, starting in 2017, this young man from the village of Tutun (or Taton), 25 km west of the city of al-Fayyum, in central Egypt, had carefully prepared. "My friends in Italy asked me to prepare by learning how to be a construction worker, before going", he told ANSAmed.

    Tutun is known as "Little Italy" because, although it has only about 54,000 residents, it boasts a community of over 15,000 expats living in the peninsula, according to estimates made by Hussein Mohamed, a city councilor.

    "About one-third of the town's inhabitants are currently in Italy. Each family has at least one or two people on the other side of the Mediterranean", the councilor estimated in statements made to ANSAmed.

    Although Fayyum is considered a poor governorate, a visit to Tutun gives the opposite impression, at least under the standards of the Egyptian province. Buildings are in better condition than elsewhere, there are "luxury" cafes, pizza places with Italian names, youths who speak in Italian when you meet them in the street. It is unusual for an Egyptian village.

    Residents have traditionally worked as farmers: but this sector's crisis starting in the early 2000s, sparked by the gradual elimination of State subsidies to small farmers, together with the ambition of new generations not to work like their fathers, has driven youths to leave their native land. The quick well-being achieved by the first emigrants at the end of the 1990s further encouraged this exodus.

    Khalid (not his real name to protect his identity) arrived in Italy through neighboring Libya in the hands of human traffickers. He landed on Lampedusa. His journey was a nightmarish odyssey which he confronted knowing that he would have easily found help once he arrived, thanks to the numerous community from his village residing in Naples, Rome and Milan.

    In fact, in just two weeks, he found work in construction and obtained documents in Naples. "If I worked like my father, I would never find the money to get married, to get a life and a home", says the farmer's son. Aware of the situation, Khalid's father encouraged him and helped him go to Italy, selling part of his land to pay for the trip.

    "My family lived in a small old home", said a 27-year-old which ANSAmed prefers to identify only as Mustafa. "Our two neighbors - he added - instead built two large luxury homes by using the money sent by their children who are in Italy. It was sad to look at our neighbors' homes and at our old" home, said the youth. He emigrated illegally to Italy in 2015, using money his father had obtained by selling part of his land to finance the trip.

    After five years of working in construction in Naples, another youth from Tutun returned to his village. He bought a large piece of land and built a new home for his family and to get married. But he intends to return to Italy. "I can't stay here, there are no services or work that can help me make a living. There isn't even a sewer system in the village", he denounced.

    However, the search for wealth is expensive and in bars it is possible to listen to stories, some of them incredible, of youths who risked or lost their lives to take the trip. "I have a friend who looked death in the face", said a 19-year-old. "He was on board a vessel in 2019 in the Mediterranean, travelling to Italy. An unidentified helicopter threw a large rock on the boat with the migrants on board to sink it. My friend made it but he returned to the city traumatized. However, after a few months, I learned that he had left again".

    The allegation is questionable or, at least, cannot be easily verified, but it is certain that in September 2016 three youths from Tutun died in a shipwreck in which over 3000 people lost their lives. And in 2019 five others were killed by traffickers in Libya while they were attempting to reach Italy. Such stories, however, do not discourage others who want to leave.

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