SEATTLE — It is no secret that the European migrant crisis has hit Italy hard. The country’s government and society have had a difficult time keeping up with refugee integration in Italy after the recent economic crisis. It is estimated that Italy is now home to more than 180,000 refugees. The majority are living in and around Rome. Doctors Without Borders estimates that up to 10,000 of these refugees are living in inhumane conditions. In its most recent election, fringe party anti-immigration stances began to seep into mainstream Italian political parties.
This distress is nothing new and has been seen around Europe. Hungary closed its border with Croatia in an attempt to stem the flow of refugees. For many, it is not the fear of foreigners that cause this political backlash but the fear of losing their culture. Countries on the southern and eastern borders of the European Union are most affected by the migrant crisis and the culture scare due to the Dublin regulation, which states that a person seeking asylum in the EU must apply in the country they first arrive in.
In 2017, the Italian government passed the National Integration Plan to aid refugee integration in Italy. The plan is seen as a compromise and an attempt to stop the rise of anti-immigration ideology. Many politicians in the 2018 Italian elections ran on an anti-immigration platform. Once this plan is fully enacted and its results begin to show, it is hoped that the anti-immigration rhetoric will disappear.
The plan to aid refugee integration in Italy is funded by the Italian government and the European Union. It is designed to target 75,000 people with EU refugee or subsidiary protection status, meaning they are unable to return to their country of origin or home country due to fear of persecution or death. The National Integration Plan is a two-way street. Refugees will get more help finding jobs and suitable housing, while Italy and its people will feel that these refugees are becoming active members of their community, instead of a drain on a struggling economy.
A key component of the National Integration Plan is teaching the Italian language. By teaching Italian to refugees of all ages, the government hopes to increase refugee integration in Italy. After the refugees learn Italian, it will be easier for them to participate in their community. The second major component of the National Integration Plan is promoting “active citizenship”. The Italian government hopes to curb Islamophobia by fostering goodwill and communication between refugees and the Italian communities in which they live. Young refugees will begin to communicate with young Italians, mutual respect will begin to grow and future generations will have a better understanding of each other.
An example of the plan in action can be found in a little town nestled at the bottom of the Dolomite mountain range. In 2017, in the town of Belluno, four African refugees were interviewed by The Local Italy, an international news organization. They found the four men cleaning the grounds of an old military barracks that the government planned to turn into a cultural center. Refugees have also been working in the town, cleaning parks and the city center.
When asked, many refugees say that they feel as if they are participating in the community and giving back in a small way. They also feel good that they have something to do with their day as they go through official channels to find stable work. The program has been underway in the town since 2014, and thus far the mayor and some of the population have been happy with the results.
While they are provided for through government aid separate from the program, they receive no pay for their work. To some, this may sound as if the Italian government is taking advantage of their labor. In the end, hopefully these people will be proven wrong. It is all part of helping with refugee integration in Italy.
High unemployment and lack of economic growth affect Italians and refugees alike. Hopefully, mutual understanding and a government keen on fixing the economy rather than blaming refugees can help to strengthen bonds. Refugee integration in Italy, sponsored by the Italian government, can help to build and strengthen those bonds. In the coming years, the benefits of this program will be seen throughout Italian society.
– Nick DeMarco