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Walsall for All Visit to Sicily, Italy - Day 3

Day 3 – Visit to Centro Astalli and Round-table at Palazzo della Cultura

On day 3 of our exchange visit to Sicily we visited the Centro Astalli in Catania. The Centro Astralli is part of the Jesuit Refugee Service network run predominantly by volunteers. Their focus is on supporting refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.

We were shown the medical centre which supports those who are not entitled to, or are unable to access, free state healthcare. Common conditions include sores and scabies. They also offer free sexual health checks. The doctors who work there are volunteers and they can dispense common medicines which would otherwise be unaffordable.

They are also focussed on education, both of Italians and migrants, supporting dialogue to create knowledge about migration amongst young people of different cultures and religions. When we were there a local school was visiting – to learn about why migrants choose to make the journeys they do and where they have come from. They also provide basic supplies such as soap or towels to the homeless who drop in.

It was raised there seemed to be disparities around the quality and level of support offered by different reception centres and that Catania local authority responsible for this support needed more consistency in terms of management of funding and impact. Organised crime was highlighted as an issue that can take advantage of vulnerable migrants and there was a feeling that a lot more needed to be done about it locally.

Later on we took part in the round-table in the Palazzo della Cultura, Catania, which is an equivalent of a cultural centre for the city, hosting arts exhibitions and performances. The purpose of the round-table was to compare how our two towns/cities work with the local providers together in order to meet needs of incoming migrant communities and also develop relationships with existing communities.

Representatives from Catania social services and various other agencies including the SPRAR (Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees) explained their funding arrangements, with most of the funding coming from EU, and some funding directly from the local authority. They gave examples of six-month internships for migrants in the hospitality industry, including Italian language courses amongst the most successful projects. Another example given was that the University of Catania has started recognising qualifications from migrant’s home countries (not just Italian qualifications) which is helping migrants and refugees to enter at a higher level and not having to study from beginning.

Catania representatives felt that their local providers were working well together in terms of providing information and accommodation for migrant communities but acceptance is a long process and there can be issues between migrants and local people that take time to resolve. Often, projects are designed to support all local people in need and this is a good way to reduce tensions. However, the new national legislation enacted by the Minister Salvini reduced legal entitlements for migrants in terms of the access to integration services for asylum seekers (these are instead reserved for people with accepted refugee status). This has created tensions and negative views of migrants around the country, with an increase in hate crime.

We had a chance to share our Walsall for All strategy and explained our approach, particularly in terms of more difficult areas, such as hate crime, segregation and social mixing. We both agreed that in order for the towns and cities to become inclusive and socially mixed, projects need to involved both incoming and existing population – this needs to be a two-way street. In Italy, there is an issue that there is good practice at a local level, but no agreed national approach. We felt that in UK, the support from the national government, and particularly the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government was driving best practice and sharing learning. On the other hand, the housing segregation does not seem to be as much of an issue for Italian towns and cities, because most of the population lives in flats which leads more naturally to social mixing.

We have really enjoyed this 3 day visit organised by the British Embassy in Rome in partnership with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Our Embassy representative Rebecca White was a great multilingual host who made sure that no one missed out on conversations and the change to exchange ideas. Our special thanks also goes to the International Organisation for Migration representative Eleanora Vola, who provided us with a much needed and independent insight into general migration issues nationally and internationally.

On behalf of:

Kayon Blake, Mend-It project

Juraj Modrak, Nash Dom

Irena Hergottova, Walsall Integration Partnership

Marie Smith, Walsall for All partnership


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