It was recently established beyond any doubt that migrant reception in Italy is full of holes. I don’t think there is one Region that can be saved, starting from Sicily to Brennero. Since I have had the pleasure of personally seeing so many realities, in many different places, I can say in all honesty that something beautiful is nevertheless happening. Besides, I have never been able to work on unhealthy projects. That’s why I feel almost compelled to describe a reality that is completely new and different for Italy. It involves the reception provided by the Federation of Protestant Churches and the Community of Sant’Egidio to refugees arriving in Italy through the so-called “Humanitarian Corridor.”
It will be a privilege for the few, two thousand people in all, who are currently living in refugee camps in Lebanon: practically, a drop in the ocean. Two hundred of them have already arrived in Italy on a direct flight from Beirut to Rome. About two months ago, I began attending to the health needs of those arriving in Milan. However, the word “health” is very restrictive. In fact, I am able to get to know them very well, one by one, family by family and a relationship is formed, which is also one of trust and affection. This is hard to do in a facility that sometimes treats more than one hundred people and not much time can be devoted to each one.
The new arrivals were first placed in apartments here and are completely independent. They are followed daily by excellent operators who slowly help them integrate into the new society, not to mention, new life. This is not easy! My first experience was with four young men from Mali, who were very different from each other and did not know each other. After a few days, I saw that they were already on the road to independence, something that almost never happens in the centres. However, it is easy to see why they become so independent in only a few weeks: the operator is not there with them all day long, so when he is not there, they have to learn how to move in the neighbourhood, to spend the money they are given wisely, to buy food for themselves, to cook, wash their clothes, go to Italian school, etc… So they quickly learn how to be responsible and how to manage their time in the best way possible.
The second experience, instead, allowed me to get to know four Syrian families made up of people of all ages. Each family was given their own apartment on different floors of the same building. Therefore, they are close, but independent. The operator visits the families every day and helps them with their problems and sees to their needs, which range from those of a small child to those of an old woman who is having a hard time understanding how she finds herself in a world so different. And all ages and problems in between. In this case, the work is much more complex. The refugees have had to personally deal with war and they still bear the scars on their body and soul. They have spent many years in refugee camps, I still don’t know how, since they only arrived two weeks ago, but there will be plenty of time to ask them. What I can say is that a beautiful relationship of trust has been built with the operators, one of whom speaks very good Arabic and knows their country and living habits, and also with me. I manage how I can. I talk to everyone and try to cure their ills.
This is a new way of reception that has nothing to do with money, politics, personal or international interests. Of course, it is much more difficult to achieve, and I wouldn’t dream of saying that “this could be done throughout Italy.” In fact, I believe that the experience of the Federation of Protestant Churches and the Community of Sant’Egidio will remain a totally isolated and unique one. Pessimistic? No, realistic. For now, I can only say that I am proud to be part of it.