Rescued migrants stand in line and form hearts with their hands before leaving the Sea-Watch 4 … [+] rescue ship before boarding a ferry, on which some 350 migrants will be under quarantine, off the coast of Palermo, Sicily, Italy, on September 02, 2020. – More than 350 migrants including those rescued by a vessel sponsored by British street artist Banksy were being transferred onto a quarantine vessel off Sicily. “The first people have boarded the quarantine vessel and the operation is ongoing,” Mattea Weihe, spokeswoman for the Sea-Watch humanitarian organisation told AFP. (Photo by Thomas Lohnes / AFP) / Germany OUT (Photo by THOMAS LOHNES/AFP via Getty Images)
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On September 20, Romeo Cox arrived at Trafalgar Square in London having made the 2,800km journey from Palermo, Italy, on foot, by bike and boat. The 10-year-old English boy, who moved to Sicily with his family a few years ago, made the epic trip to visit his grandmother as well as raise awareness about the plight of refugees.
Speaking in an interview with the BBC, Cox said, “In quarantine I came up with this idea to visit my granny, but in secret by not using cars, planes.” Coronavirus lockdown restrictions prevented Cox from flying, so he chose to do the journey on foot after his father, a journalist and documentary maker, agreed to accompany him.
Father and son set off from Italy in late June, beginning by taking a sailing boat from Sicily to Naples. They cycled for a brief period, and then began their long trek which involved waking up at 4.30 each morning. The pair walked around 20km a day using parts of the Via Francigena, an ancient pilgrimage route connecting Canterbury to Rome. At night, they camped or asked for accommodation in hostels and convents. “We would sleep in the middle of nowhere under the stars and trees and those were some really good times,” Cox continues in the interview.
The journey was not all plain sailing, including a troublesome donkey who was carrying their bags. “On the third day and the fourth day … we were eight hours straight every day trying to pull it, but we didn’t want to hurt it,” Cox recounts in the interview. They also had to dodge aggressive wild dogs in an area of warehouses around Naples and wild boars in the countryside.
Cox reached his destination last Sunday and is now in quarantine for 14 days before he can finally hug his granny. On arrival into Trafalgar Square, Cox and his father were greeted and applauded by people who had been following the pair’s adventure on social media.
For Cox, the trip also has a message beyond his own journey. In documenting the trip on social media, father and son wanted to highlight the journeys that many refugees are forced to make. “I was passing over the cliffs trying to get to our hostel in Calais and we met this Sudanese boy trying to cross from Calais to his family and brother in the UK and he wasn’t allowed,” Cox tells the BBC. “I felt it was unfair for me to meet my family and he not to.”
On their Facebook page, Romeo’s Big Journey Home, Cox and his father are inviting people to donate to the charity Refugee Education Across Conflicts Trust (REACT), run by Cox’s mother. “We’re trying to raise funds also for those who helped me in Sicily, Palermo, like this boy Randolph from Ghana. I didn’t know a word of Italian, he showed me around,” says Cox in the interview. “I just want to give back to them and help them with the digital education, we’re trying to raise funds for that.” Cox has already raised over £11,000 to buy tablets and WiFi connection for refugees and disadvantaged children in the local area.
Cox has just over a week now to wait before his reunion with his grandmother, who has already sent him a letter and some cakes to help the days pass.