Migrants Help In Relief Effort After Deadly Earthquake In Italy Volunteers are helping respond to an earthquake in central Italy. Many of them are migrants from Africa, who came seeking asylum. Even in the relief effort, their presence in Italy is controversial.
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Migrants Help In Relief Effort After Deadly Earthquake In Italy

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Migrants Help In Relief Effort After Deadly Earthquake In Italy

Migrants Help In Relief Effort After Deadly Earthquake In Italy

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We want to head to Europe now where thousands of volunteers are pitching in to clean up after the devastating earthquake in Italy, and some of those volunteers are recently arrived migrants from Africa and the Middle East. They braved the Mediterranean Sea to seek asylum in Italy, and now they say it's their turn to give back. Reporter Christopher Livesay has the story.

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY, BYLINE: Volunteers have been working around the clock since a deadly quake ripped through central Italy on Wednesday. The buildings that still stand and are safe enough to enter are commonly converted into aid stations.

This one is a former fishery in the town of Pescara del Tronto. Volunteers are cleaning it up and turning it into the command center of the earthquake response effort. One of those working hard is Amadou Jallow, a 30-year-old asylum-seeker who fled conflict in Gambia. He says he leapt at the opportunity to help.

AMADOU JALLOW: Because we see to it that, yes, this is a necessity We have to give back to Italian people for the good things that they have done for us.

LIVESAY: When he says we, he's referring to himself and four other asylum seekers. They're being helped by an NGO called Gruppo Umana Solidarieta that focuses on assimilating migrants. More than 400,000 migrants from Africa and the Middle East have come to Italy since the start of 2014. That's generated tension here.

Since the quake, some politicians and regular citizens have argued that the hundreds of millions of euros Italy spends annually on hosting migrants should instead be spent on quake relief.

Vincenzo Lauri is a local lumberjack left homeless by the earthquake. He's found some shade next to a freight container. His tent gets too hot during the day, he says, just a short walk from the migrants. He's grateful for their help, he says, but he fears they're using up resources that should go to quake victims instead.

VINCENZO LAURI: (Through Interpreter) It's not a question of racism, but I think in cases of absolute emergency like this, I hope that the Italian authorities focus more on us. We feel less respected than the refugees we're hosting in Italy. We're worse off than them. They're living inside migrant centers. That's better than sleeping in a tent.

LIVESAY: Jallow, the refugee from Gambia, says he's heard this before, and he understands.

JALLOW: They are going through a very, very difficult situation. They have been traumatized, and did I have - I have similar things in common with them because it's like I've experienced a thing like this before. He who feels it, knows it.

LIVESAY: Jallow says he's witnessed tragedy firsthand. Last year, he crossed the Mediterranean to Italy and says he saw more than 100 other migrants die when their boat sank. He was on a separate boat and was rescued by the Italian navy.

JALLOW: So now it's the time to give them back for the generosity they have shown us. This is not about Italy. This is about the whole world. I am an Italian today.

LIVESAY: Many more migrants around the country have lined up to donate blood or help in other ways. At one migrant center, administrators say that 75 migrants there were donating all of their state provided spending money to the victims of the quake. For NPR News, I'm Christopher Livesay in Ascoli Piceno.

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