In 2015, Italy welcomed 74,784 migrants from different countries who had been assigned as refugees, subsidiary protection, humanitarian protection or requested as a form of international protection. The highest concentration of migrants in Italy is in Sicily, where 19% are welcomed.
But how do organisations help refugees and what are the main struggles they endure?Directors and members of SPRAR, a net of locally based organisations, have assisted 7598 people since 2011, providing social services, health services, education, training, integration into the workplace and legal advice.
Currently, there are 429 SPRAR (Protection System for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) projects underway in Italy. SPRAR offers apartments or centres for groups or families and offer a series of activities to help with integration within the local area.Director of a local SPRAR named “Nefisa”, Angela Marchese, helps refugees in Mascalucia, Catania, Sicily. The project can assist families of up to eleven people, and it takes its name from the first child it welcomed. In the last four years four babies were born in the centre.
“The SPRAR,” Angela explains, “gives us the opportunity to have a specific sum to use for integration. The first thing we do when a guest arrives, is to try and understand their previous experience, their education, and their competences, to create an individual project which is reevaluated every three months.
“It’s quite normal that the first objective of anyone who arrives here is to move around in the area” Angela continues “and the base of this revolves around learning the language. This service is offered immediately because the project offers ten hours of Italian classes a week.”
Chiara Rondine, director of the SPRAR project ‘Casa Dei Giovani (The House Of Youth)’, assists single men from different backgrounds and countries. The project is run in Aci Sant’Antonio, Catania, Sicily, and works with up to a maximum of 29 young men.
“To insert people into the workplace we concentrate on individual projects depending on their experience or qualifications.” Chiara says “For example, young men of eighteen year olds, often have no work experience and some form of training is necessary. For others who already have experiences there are opportunities to participate in further trainings or apprenticeships: we try to organize these apprenticeships ourselves with local companies.
“For example, at the moment a young man is training in a cement factory as he worked as a builder in Gambia, we have tried to give some continuity to his work experience. To those with no work experience, we usually offer training in restaurants, generally to learn the basic rules of working in Europe. We also support our guests search for work, helping them to create and send out their CVs.”
Chiara adds: “The experience of any form of training doesn’t only teach a specific job, but it also teaches the trainee rules that are in their interest to put a stop to the black market, where there is no protection for migrants.” In fact the director describes this as a real “battle” because when the migrants arrive in Sicily, due to different customs in their country of origin, they often become victims of exploitation, working in the black market, especially in the field of agriculture and farming.
Angela, of the Nefisa project, adds that integration in the workplace, as with integration in general, involves collaboration and a lot of patience.
“It’s a bet we make on everyone of them.” She says “One of our difficulties is that many businesses aren’t willing to take a trainee because they must have a series of structural parameters. There are many things, the business, the possibility to obtain certain documents etc. But the victories slowly arrive.”
In the same way, Chiara says; ”Over the years we have had some good results as for example a young man who has a full time contract in a shopping centre thanks to work experience and training. He arrived on a boat now he has a full time contract. I’d say that’s a great result.”
Moreover, the frustrations on arriving in Italy are many” Chiara continues ”there are cases where the migrant previously had a job and was able to maintain their whole family. Thanks to the training and the operators at the SPRAR, he can be helped to lighten the burden, lift forms of depression, lift self-esteem and deepen trust.”
The people who have been assisted in these two projects, as in many other SPRAR projects, are immigrants who have been granted residence permits for humanitarian reasons. The territorial commission has decided that in their country of origin “could exist serious humanitarian conditions”.
Angela says that their migration is motivated by the search for a land where living conditions are better. While Chiara explains the situations from which the migrants flee varies from person to person.
“The overall view is vast and it would be an error to make catagories. The most of the time the circumstances depend on the country of origin. Usually, it’s a political problem or personal persecution due to sexual orientation, as homosexuality isn’t well tolerated. In some countries like Senegal or Pakistan it merits the death penalty. Another serious problem is poverty, for example, there are people that cannot obtain medical treatment. We can discover a lot speaking with them, everyone has their own character, there are things said and others not, there are many things they could have experienced, we can use our intuition to try and understand but things we can never be certain of.”
On a social level, all the local SPRAR projects work to create events and activities that promote integration. They promote the advantages of foreigners in European territory and to stop prejudice often created by the media.
Angela says: “This is a particular moment, it’s enough to watch the television to hear a negative comment. But in our experience if we explain simply what we do people will listen. The advantages of foreigners in our country are above all culturally, because when there is comparison with something new we can only become culturally richer for it. I have seen cases of full integration that have enriched the community. My team try to do our best, but it is a grassroot job, the local council, the migrant and obviously the community must all do their part.
Also Chiara says: “I support the idea that Sicily, as a land ,and through its history, is used to integration. In the sense that our roots are already well mixed; The Sicilian culture, the openness as well as the closed mind and the lack of trust all comes from the different ancient, populations that have passed through Sicily, so the fact so many different people arrive can only bring growth from a cultural point of view.
One aspect that is undervalued by the media and the population is that migrants are a big help for the economy and for a demographic aspect because Italy is an aging country. Political xenophobia is comfortable when there are problems, but the reality, the statistics speak for themselves: the migrant workforce in certain sectors increase the PIL in an amazing way.”
Some foreigners have even requested the use of abandoned agricultural land and lemon groves, to restart the local economy.
“What is nice,” says Angela, “is to see some of our guests, after leaving us, remain close in the Catania area. They are happy in the community and the community is happy with them. Their culture becomes fully integrated with ours”.
This is the case of some ladies who offered to plait hair for local women, or others that were asked to cook for special banquets requested by Italians that wanted to try different ethnic cuisine. And this is also the case of ‘Temitope rice’, a recipe invented by Temitone, a lady who stayed at the Mascalucia center, who is still remembered every Monday when her dish is prepared.