An Eritrean woman queues up in a camp in France. Like Amina, she left Africa to find new opportunities.

Credits: S. Le Clézio/Secours Catholique

“My country is beautiful,” said Amina*. “It’s got everything apart from work.”

Leaving seemed like the best option after Amina’s tailoring school failed. In 2001 she went to France where her brother and two sisters were already living with jobs. Her father, who lived in a North African country with her mother and two other siblings, had also studied in France.

But Amina quickly realised France was a difficult place to get documents to stay. She then went to Italy where another brother lived. Her arrival coincided with new legislation. Non-EU migrants could only enter Italy if they had an employment contract with a firm or family. At the same time, employers of undocumented migrants were given the opportunity to apply for a permit for them to stay in Italy.

Amina’s brother knew a family who needed a domestic helper.

“The family took me in like a daughter. They paid my pension contributions and applied for a residence permit for me to stay in Italy,” she said.

She continued working for the family when she had her children, a boy and a girl, now aged four and two. She worked first with the mother, and then worked for the daughter until July 2009 when the woman’s husband died.

Amina then took a free 160-hour course to become a family assistant. She now works for a family from9am-2pm, Monday to Friday. She also did a 120-hour course to work with people with Alzheimer’s disease. Caritas helped her find a position as a volunteer to help aman with Alzheimer’s for 10months to complete the requirements of the course. She does four hours twice a week with theman.

Caritas has helped by providing herwith used clothes for her children through the“Save theMothers”project, and by giving her food coupons to go to its basic needs supermarket. “I’m lucky. I’ve looked for things myself but it’s also helped meeting good people like the ones at Caritas,” says Amina, but adds that integration is difficult.

“I always feel like a foreigner, and I’ve not been back to North Africa in five years,” she said.

Amina says that if one change should be made to the law in Italy it should be that children of immigrants who are born there should be given Italian citizenship.

“The difficult thing here is that my children were born here but they don’t have citizenship, and yet they’ve never been to North Africa and they don’t know Arabic,” she said.

Amina realises that whatever she builds will always be precarious under the current immigration law in Italy, even though she has a permit to stay until 2013.

Her future has just beenmademore uncertain after the family she’s been working for has told her they can no longer employ her. She said, “I’ve got a permanent contract, but what does itmean when they can just get rid ofme like a rag?”