Sitting silently in front of a whirling sewing machine, a calm Alireza Azimi gives little away of the perilous journey he has endured.
Stepping away from his work for a moment, the story of the Iranian tailor slowly unravels in a Rome refugee centre where he has joined a collective of craftsmen.
“I decided to come here for a better life, to be in a more open country…but it’s not how I thought it would be,” he tells The Local, in softly-spoken Italian.
Azimi arrived in Italy nearly three years ago; one of the thousands of migrants to cross land and sea to reach Europe each year.
His own journey saw him smuggled across the Iran-Turkey border in a truck, which he still remembers as a “dangerous” and “very exhausting” few hours. Azimi made it to the Turkish capital, Istanbul, before crossing into Greece.
Months after leaving Iran – and after a brief spell in a Greek immigration camp – he was on his way to Italy. “I went in a speedboat with around 12 people. We left at about 4.00am, when it was still dark,” Azimi remembers.
“I had been told the journey was three and a half hours to Bari, but they lied. We went to Calabria and it took five and a half hours,” he says of his arrival in southern Italy. The detour away from Bari, the capital of Italy’s Puglia region, was said to be because of the high number of police there.
Despite the change of plan, Azimi was relatively lucky in crossing the Mediterranean. So far this year, more than 66,000 people have arrived in Italy by boat. The majority have been trafficked from Libya in overcrowded fishing boats, while around 500 are thought to have died attempting the crossing this year.
Like many of the boat migrants who arrive in Italy, Azimi had little intention in staying for long.
“I had decided to live in Holland or Germany, but unfortunately I arrived in Italy and I couldn’t go there,” he says. Under EU law, migrants must register in the first European country they arrive in and are restricted from going elsewhere. Azimi says he will have to wait two more years before he can have the chance to move elsewhere in Europe.
As a result he has tried to find work in Rome, joining half a dozen fellow migrants at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center (JNRC) for two days a week. There the group transforms magazines and other discarded items into crafts, which are then sold in the US and Italy.
Other opportunities are hard to come by, he says: “The problem is that the wages are very low and there are a lot of workers. If I work somewhere for six months and they prefer someone else, I’ll lose my job immediately.”
Azimi recognizes that he is more fortunate than many other people who seek asylum in Italy, such as those fleeing war zones. But still he thinks of the life he left behind: “When I was in Iran, I had work, I had a house, I always had friends. But I wanted to be in a situation where there was more freedom.”
He thinks of returning to Iran or following his nephew to Australia, as hopes fade for a future in Europe.
“I’m very tired now,” says the tailor, before returning to sit behind the sewing machine.