The Alhadj Djumaa was a wooden fishing boat that once carried 282 refugees from Egypt across the Mediterranean Sea.
On 20 April, the boat marked the start of the sailing season of 2018 with its first cruise in the waters in and around Amsterdam.
The vessel’s trips, which are open to the public, offer people a glimpse into the lives of those who brave the seas to get to Europe.
Rechristened Mr Friday, it is part of an art project called Rederij Lampedusa, which offers free boat rides, during which refugees share their experiences with attendees. According to their mission statement, the Rederij team, comprising people from Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Netherlands and Syria, want to “use the traditional Dutch love of sailing as a way to meet others, teach them about how important immigration has been in Amsterdam’s past, and integrate ourselves in Dutch culture.”
Mr Friday made its way to the Dutch capital after being seized by Italian authorities on July 25, 2013, en route to Lampedusa, Italy. These days, at full capacity, Mr Friday carries about 35 people, a motley crew of Amsterdammers and tourists who want to learn more about the experience of refugees.
A smaller boat that was seized in 2014, again by Italian authorities, is also part of the Rederij project. It offers canal cruises during which the refugee guide tells passengers about the history of Amsterdam from an immigrant’s perspective, working the refugee experience into the narrative.
Tommy Hatim Sherif is one of the guides. A refugee from Egypt, he came to the Netherlands in 2014.
“I decided to seek refuge in Amsterdam because as a boy, I was crazy about Dutch footballer Ruud Gullit,” Tommy told My Salaam with a laugh. He booked a flight to Turkey via Amsterdam, and on 23 September 2014, he got on his first airplane. On arrival at Schiphol airport, he asked for refuge.
On March 2015, Tommy was granted permission to stay, and two years later, he became involved with the Rederij project. Along with other refugees, he participated in theatre and storytelling workshops, which helped him work his personal tale into the larger story of Amsterdam and its immigrants.
The cruises have received positive feedback from participants. The trips offer a unique perspective on the city. Natalya Sarch, who moved to Amsterdam from Norway, commented, “I thought the boat trip sounded like a great way to hear about the city from the perspective of people who had come there under different circumstances than I had and who could tell me about the city through their experience.”
She describes it as a nice mix of facts about the city and the guide’s personal experience. “It was unbelievable to hear that 50–60 people had crossed the sea in the boat we were sitting in, whereas we were just a few people taking up the same space. Our guide, who was a refugee himself, was a theatre director and performer, and he used the boat ride as a kind of storytelling platform. It’s a great project and I’m glad that I had the chance to hear his story.”
(Writing by Susan Muthalaly; Editing by Seban Scaria seban.scaria@thomsonreuters.
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