Today we would like to share with you another article by one of our participants. Ludovica took part in one of the training session we held in Italy as part of the ARISE and Rethinking Migration projects, in June of 2019. Thank you Ludovica for sharing your impressions with us!
The Calabrian sun had only just decided to rise and begin to shine over the houses of the small town of Lamezia Terme when one by one 28 foreign faces started making their way to the breakfast hall of the Hotel Phelipe. The incredible diversity of the group seemed to impress the locals so much that many of them did not shy away from explicitly asking why such a peculiar mix of people would choose to spend their holidays in the Southernmost and poorest region of Italy, whose reputation is usually associated with criminal activities, poor quality infrastructure and a lack of job opportunities. A more patient and acute observer, however, would have easily guessed after having overheard even just a few minutes of the long conversations exchanged by the interesting crowd, what those apparently different people all shared with one another. As a matter of fact, each and every one of them had in one way or another a personal or professional connection to issues of migration. Most of them could be considered to be migrants themselves, whilst others would simply feel like their whole life should be dedicated to the fighting of injustices related to migration or to providing support to those struggling to integrate in the country of arrival. Another element that they all shared was that they all had applied and got accepted to take part in the ERASMUS+ funded ARISE and Rethinking Migration projects organised by Kairos Europe in partnership with Italian based Itaka Training. The ambitious and wide-embracing topic of the conference, namely, “Refugee Inclusion in Southern Europe” allowed the organisers to include people from a huge variety of backgrounds in the program, such as anthropologists, social workers, cultural mediators and a lot more, all sharing a desire to make their experience, as well as the lessons learnt through those experiences, available to other people.
I, as an Italian affiliate of the King’s College’s Migration Research Group, was one of the lucky participants and used the trip as an occasion to try to unpack those issues that are constantly exposed in an extremely simplified way in media and political discourse.
“But you made it Hamady!” – I said ingenuously whilst sipping a fresh Brasilena, the coffee flavoured Calabrian fizzy drink that I had been generously offered by my interlocutor, now friend.
“You never make it as a migrant, your journey never ends.” he countered firmly.
“You will never be able to live again,” he added, “only survive”.
In that incredibly warm afternoon in Lamezia Terme, I was sitting around a coffee table talking to a cultural mediator whom I had just met at a project session the day before. His words confirmed what I had seen and heard in conference halls throughout the whole week as well as during my academic and professional career. Terms like “inclusion” and “integration”, widely used with an unequivocally positive connotation, fail to grasp the totality of consequences which the migration process, in those occasions where it can even be deemed “successful”, has on the migrant’s psyche.
Hamady, a migrant from Senegal himself, being involved in one of the most crucial phases of the refugee’s asylum seeking process through his job, and having had the chance to hear and translate countless stories of people’s migratory journeys, delved into topics too controversial to be fully covered during the official training. His crude expressions and strong statements, backed up by anecdotal proof, were the only thing missing in the EU sponsored program. The voice of someone who started a new life in Italy and decided to dedicate it to helping those going through a process similar yet at the same time much worse than his own, helped me realise how real and concrete, all the concepts treated in the conference hall were.
Topics such as that of post-traumatic stress disorder, homelessness, and many others touched upon during the course of the seminars, were all part of the story that he shared, just in a much less academic way. Even the town that was hosting us, was depicted by him as a stage for prostitution, illegal labour exploitation in the fields and one in which racism is an often imperceptible but still pernicious vice.
However, he also made sure to communicate to us how vital the hard work of local volunteers is for the migrant communities, such as the italian language classes.
The notes that I had been taking throughout the week suddenly started making sense and seemed so useless at the same time. The effort made by the volunteers I met at the Caritas and at the reception centres and the energy they put into their work also assumed a new light.
His tone was that of someone whose eyes had seen and ears had heard more than his mouth could share, but nonetheless he tried to educate me on the process that an asylum seeker has to go through in order to ultimately obtain the official status of a refugee, a category that, as mentioned during a seminar on terminology, carries very different significance and fundamental legal implications.
During those 3 hours that felt like 20 minutes, he even mentioned a black market in Rome where the applicants are willing to buy stories in order to make sure they will receive positive response by the inspector. The person covering the role of inspector, in fact, is most likely someone with no interest in defending the rights of the applicant as a consequence of his lack of cultural and historical background.
The social workers at the reception centre for refugees and asylum seekers also sounded very pessimistic on the recent updates. During the lunch prepared by the residents of the centre themselves and arranged for us in a property that was seized from the mafia, they announced that they decided almost unanimously not to sign the papers coming from the deputy prime minister and to come up with alternative solutions instead.
Thanks to the diversity of the group of participants and to the presentations on the peculiarities of migration in their countries of origin, it was possible for all of us to pinpoint the general commonalities and tendencies which can be found across nation states and time periods. At the same time, and just as importantly, the very localised angle taken by some workshops, such as the visit to a Shisha shop opened by an Egyptian migrant in the city centre, allowed for the participants to understand how general policies and perceptions unfold differently according to the social structure which is already in place, with the mafia representing a prime example.
My expectations of interesting conferences and discussions with reputable experts were well exceeded, as the trip turned out to open a window to a society largely talked about but whose controversies are only superficially investigated. Most importantly I was able to verify personally some of the knowledge acquired during the theoretical sessions simply by engaging in conversations with residents of the area as well as with migrants themselves.
I left Calabria, with a much stronger awareness of the importance of community-based engagement if the goal is to truly achieve so called “inclusion”. Policymaking and policy change surely represent a crucial stage, but policies alone serve no purpose and risk to be totally irrelevant in a society where a high percentage of activities takes place in the informal economy.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Kairos Europe, its partners or their employees.