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In Italy, One Man Begs for Asylum. Another Man Must Decide.

Asylum systems in countries like Italy are overwhelmed, and some nations are tightening their requirements. Simply being from a poor or war-torn place is generally not enough. This fall, for example, the European Union reached an agreement with Afghanistan to send back home tens of thousands of Afghan migrants who had reached Europe.

For the moment, a hierarchy of human misery prevails: People fleeing well-defined conflicts, like the civil war in Syria, or oppressive states, like Eritrea, have a far higher chance of success, while the fate of many others can hinge on their individual stories.

Mr. De Francesco’s job amounts to parsing the misery, picking winners and losers from a pool of applicants who had lost so much already.

In early May, Mr. De Francesco was busy as I sat in his hearing room and listened to Mr. Matabor tell his life story. Usually, asylum hearings are confidential, but Italy’s Interior Ministry allowed me to attend nearly a dozen hearings this spring so long as I had the permission of the applicants. I then kept up with those applicants as they waited for answers.

One Nigerian man, Franck Iyanu, described how thugs had killed his brother as his stepfather tried to steal his land. He feared the police as much as his stepfather.

One afternoon, three Syrian families appeared — part of a group of Syrians whom Pope Francis had brought to Rome from a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. I was one of the reporters traveling with Francis on that trip in April, and the Syrians had clambered onto the papal plane, dazed by their good fortune. Now, I unexpectedly met them again in the hearing room.

During his hearing, Mr. Matabor described growing up illiterate in a Bangladeshi orphanage until a family informally adopted him. But the parents died, and he lived with his adoptive brother, a figure in opposition politics. Men came looking for the brother and instead found Mr. Matabor, beating him unconscious and threatening to kill him.

Mr. Matabor borrowed money, fled to Libya and worked in a hotel. The hotel was destroyed in Libya’s civil war. He escaped on a smuggler boat and arrived in Italy last year. In his absence, his young wife in Bangladesh had given birth to his son. He has never met the baby.

“They will kill me,” Mr. Matabor said, explaining what would happen if he went back to Bangladesh. “They want to find my brother, but they will kill me for revenge.”

Mr. De Francesco listened quietly, typing notes on his computer until the hearing ended and he hit a button. The printer whirred to life, spitting out three pages.

Those pieces of paper represented Mr. Matabor’s old life, and would be added to his official application for a new one. He signed his name, and later that day Mr. De Francesco presented the case for a vote to the five-member asylum commission he oversees.

The odds were not good: Nearly two-thirds of asylum applicants in Italy are refused asylum or lower levels of protection. Mr. Matabor’s answer would not come until October.

Source: NYT > World

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