SNF Nostos



The Voice of Youth: A Refugee's Journey to Europe and the Impact on Mental Health

Friday June 24, 10:50, Lobby NLG

Gerald Mballe, Member of the SNF Nostos Youth Advisory Committee

ΑFrom Cameroon, Gerald Mballe reached Italy by passing through “Dante’s Inferno,” as he puts it. Today, he recognises the value of dealing with trauma and speaks about caring for the mental health of those who need support—and those who provide it.

“In early 2015, I was forced to leave my homeland because of the terror spread by Boko Haram; there, I had to witness violent scenes, which we know to be very traumatic, no matter which part of the world you’re in. So I found myself walking through Dante's Inferno: I went through the Sahara Desert, one of the most dangerous areas in the world with the most dangerous groups of people. And I had to create a new life for myself. Like most unaccompanied children, I felt very afraid. In Libya, I saw the difficult conditions and I worked—almost like a slave—at the various camps. When I came to Turin, I was marginalized. I felt this in my heart, and it created many scars in my soul.”

This is how Gerald Mballe described his voyage from Cameroon to Europe: a painful and traumatic journey that did not stop when he arrived in Italy. “When I arrived, everything was new. I couldn't sleep, I had nightmares all the time. I became very aggressive towards the workers at the reception center; the psychologists had to help me. And this was a new beginning, a new cycle.” Today, he acknowledges that “mental health is crucial,” and during the outbreak of the pandemic and the lockdowns, in collaboration with the Red Cross, he assisted refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean. “I tried to provide various mediation services for refugees and migrants, and I saw their fear and anxiety.” Travelers in need were talking about their fear that they would die, but also about their fear for their relatives back home, a fear that Gerald knew well.

"The need for sound mental health is of paramount importance both for the people who receive support and for the people who host them,” he pointed out. Introducing the panel entitled "Medicine in times of war" with Christos Christou and Christina Psarra from Médecins Sans Frontières, he said, "I remember spending many long nights on a boat in the middle of the Mediterranean. In the midst of a storm, while the waves were rising, I lifted my head and saw a ship that had come to our rescue. It said “Médecins Sans Frontières.” Thanks to God and this organization, I managed to stay alive.”