Which solutions for displaced people?

Insights from a multi-stakeholder community consultation in the city of Cuneo, in the Piedmont region (Italy)

By Pietro Cingolani (FIERI)

Introduction and context

On Friday, 23 May 2021, the Forum of International and European Research on Immigration (FIERI) team organised a multi-stakeholder community consultation (MSCC) in the city of Cuneo, in the Piedmont region. The first objective of this meeting was to share with the participants the results of the field research conducted in Cuneo and in other rural locations in the province of Cuneo, such as the town of Saluzzo and the surrounding villages. The second objective was to collect information from the participants on good policies and practices to improve the living and working conditions of migrants in protracted displacement.

Besides Ferruccio Pastore and Pietro Cingolani, members of the Italian TRAFIG team, and Andrea Fantino and Andrea Ceraso, two video-makers who filmed the consultation, eight people attended the meeting: Giovanna, a public servant with responsibility for social services and immigration policies; Antonio, high school teacher and director of the Cuneo Historical Institute for the Resistance; Paola, president of one of the most important cooperatives that manage reception centres for asylum seekers in the province of Cuneo; Roberta, volunteer from a catholic association and active in many reception initiatives for migrants; Enrica, journalist for a local weekly newspaper; Adania, Albanian cultural mediator, employed in a local workers' union; Badu, refugee from Congo, in Italy since 1987; Baubakar, asylum seeker from Cameroon, in Italy since 2016 and president of an association that supports migrants in protracted displacement. (For anonymity purposes, the real names of the MSCC participants were substituted with fictional names.)

Questions

The participants sat in a circle and, after a short presentation of the preliminary results of the research, were asked to introduce themselves and to answer three questions:

  1. What kind of geographic mobility do migrants show? Do you consider this mobility positive or negative?
  2. What social ties have migrants in protracted displacement developed in Cuneo (with co-nationals/ with other migrants/ with locals)? Do social networks developed in Cuneo help them to improve their living conditions?
  3. Could you indicate practical solutions to improve the situation for locals and migrants in protracted displacement?

collage_MSCC%20Italy MSCC in Italy. Pictures by FIERI.

Mobilty

Giovanna stressed that various types of mobility should be distinguished and that they also require different policy responses. Some migrants do not choose Cuneo but arrive in the city because they are sent there by the central government distribution system for asylum seekers. These migrants generally do not move and find it more difficult to integrate into the local context because they do not have social networks whose support proved to be fundamental in other cases. Other migrants arrive because they are attracted by the possibility to work as seasonal fruit pickers. These migrants move elsewhere when the harvest season ends. Finally, some migrants have chosen to settle in Cuneo and no longer move because they have come out of protracted displacement; they have a secure job and housing. The city administration’s economic resources are only available to the last group of migrants, those who have administrative residence. It has no resources to allocate to non-resident migrants. Local grassroots associations offer many of the services for the other two categories of migrants, but they cannot meet all needs. According to Giovanna, if a public administration offers better services, it attracts new migrants from other cities. But then it cannot guarantee to each migrant what he or she expects.

Badu noted that while there were many free services for asylum seekers in the past, there has been far less material and social support to favour their local integration in recent years.

Antonio highlighted that all migrants are used to geographic mobility. From his point of view, mobility makes them less vulnerable, and for this reason, many young asylum seekers would have moved on from Cuneo if COVID-19 had not necessitated restrictions of movement.

Paola stressed that it is very difficult for reception workers to find the appropriate tools to respond to the real mobility needs of asylum seekers. She addressed very negative forms of mobility, such as that of sexually exploited migrants, who move because they are forced by their exploiters. An important response to stop negative mobility is to counteract job insecurity, ensuring good working conditions. Migrants stay or go depending on the material conditions they find. She gave two examples: that of a Pakistani refugee whom they transferred from the city of Cuneo to a small mountain village. He is currently working there as a shepherd, and he managed to have his family reunited. Another example is that of an Afghan refugee who, despite having good accommodation and a secure job in Cuneo, moved to Milan and started to work there as a food delivery rider. He chose mobility and a precarious job, as this allows him to earn more.

Connectivity

Giovanna highlighted that migrants’ transnational networks are very important and that policymakers must not disregard them. For this reason, Italian cities have to collaborate with the cities of departure also to encourage return migration.

Roberta stressed that migrants remain in a locality when collaboration between them and locals, as well as means of getting to know each other are promoted. Roberta provided various examples of collaborative practices organised by her association. One is “Guess who’s coming to dinner”: Refugee families invite local families to their homes for dinner and vice versa.

Roberta added that, at the same time, transnational networks may have priority in determining migrants’ mobility choices. She provided the example of an Eritrean family of six who arrived in Cuneo through the Humanitarian Corridors initiative (https://www.humanitariancorridor.org/). They were well-integrated but decided to move to Germany after a year because all their relatives were there. Italian volunteers who assisted this family were disappointed because they believed they had offered the best possible conditions to stay and they interpreted the family’s choice as a failure. They had not sufficiently considered the salience of these networks.

Antonio underlined how ethnic churches (for example, the Nigerian Pentecostal Church) are important places for migrants’ socialisation. While migrants find support networks in these places, they also risk being encapsulated because these churches have no ties to other local institutions.

Baubakar discussed how ethnic networks are fundamental for many asylum seekers. He felt welcomed and felt “at home” with his co-nationals. However, he admitted that there is a risk: If you only associate with co-ethnics, you do not develop positive relationships with natives.

Badu pointed out that there are important generational differences to take into account. For example, the first generation of Cameroonian refugees, to which he belongs, came from urban areas and had a high cultural capital. The African asylum seekers who arrive now are much poorer; they often come from the countryside. This fact makes it also difficult for him to create a relationship with them.

Practical solutions

Each participant had different suggestions of how to improve the situation in the future:

Badu proposed to involve long-term migrants in activities of street cultural mediation to support newcomers who find themselves homeless and unemployed.

Adania argued that it is necessary to adopt a community approach, that is, to involve local inhabitants in cooperative actions to support migrants in protracted displacement. Some religious associations have already adopted this approach, and it should be extended.

Giovanna and Antonio highlighted how foreigners must be included in public administrations. This is the only way to make decision-makers understand the needs of newcomers. A good practice, already implemented in other Italian cities, is that of the Migrants’ Council, a representative body of foreigners whose elected members participate in/contribute to the City Council.

Roberta pointed out that Catholic institutions should also be more inclusive towards foreigners, for example by including them in pastoral councils.

Paola argued that housing policies for asylum seekers and refugees need to be improved. Without adequate housing solutions, migrants cannot escape protracted displacement.

Baubakar proposed promoting professional and educational exchange initiatives with migrants’ countries of origin. Migrants should be helped to transfer the skills acquired in Italy to the cities or villages where they come from.

Enrica suggested increasing educational initiatives to support the second generations because these children are still considered foreigners, despite being born in Italy. Enrica's idea is that these young people can be valued and involved in welcoming initiatives aimed at newcomers, e.g. by working as interpreters or cultural mediators. Without their full social and cultural inclusion, it is difficult to solve the problems of adult newcomers.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the TRAFIG Consortium or the European Commission (EC). TRAFIG is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

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