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October 27, 2015

SEiSMiC Italian Partner Helps Refugees

SEiSMiC Italian Partner Helps Refugees

In between its workshops on social innovation, Cittalia, SEiSMiC’s national coordinator in Italy, has plenty to keep it busy. The urban research group has for years coordinated an exemplary refugee-assistance programme and now finds itself on the front lines of Europe’s migration crisis.

Cittalia, the research arm of the National Association of Italian Municipalities (ANCI), coordinates the central office of SPRAR, a system that helps refugees in 430 city-based assistance projects around Italy. Cittalia provides information, consultancy, technical assistance and training to the 370 local authorities and various operators of the SPRAR network. It also monitors the presence of refugees and asylum seekers.

SPRAR (an acronym for System for the Protection of Asylum Seekers and Refugees) was created by the Italian Interior Ministry more than 10 years ago. Its mission is to take responsibility for asylum seekers accepted into the scheme and help them regain their autonomy. This means finding employment and housing, accessing local services, taking part in social life and enrolling children in school.

At the local level, city governments, with civil-society support, can provide refugees with a package of services beyond basic room and board. The SPRAR programme includes orientation measures, legal and social assistance and personalised programmes for refugees’ social and economic integration into communities.

The holistic, community-based approach of SPRAR contrasts with Italy’s government-run CARA (Accommodation Centres for Asylum Seekers). While local SPRAR projects typically care for a few dozen refugees at a time, CARA centres house hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of people at a time, and normally in compounds far removed from downtown areas. Several CARA centres have become over-crowded in recent years.

What sets SPRAR apart is the public nature of resources and organisations involved. The projects rely on synergies between NGOs, social co-operatives and municipalities, and the local networks that result have proven interactive and stable. An example is in the accompanying photo, which shows a project that promotes local mobility for refugees. It's coordinated by a local SPRAR project together with a cycling NGO in Ancona, Italy.

SPRAR has also had positive impacts on communities. It has provided residents with an opening to the world, by giving them the opportunity to meet people from other cultures and find similarities as well as differences. Refugees and locals can learn from each other about their different national histories, economies and day-to-day lives. SPRAR is based on an openness that recognises the inevitability of cultural progress. It follows a centuries-old Italian tradition in which a hybrid culture evolves from many civilisations that have arrived and crossed paths.

Currently, the SPRAR network allows for more than 20,000 persons to be received and protected. Plans call for expanding capacity by 10,000 in 2016 for a total future enrollment of 30,000 persons.