Thursday, January 28, 2016

Accompaniment and integration: two important factors in providing services to refugees.

Photo Credit:

Prepared by Adelina Del Real:

Social services have been around since the beginning of civilization.  Instances of government aide to the disadvantaged can be traced to early times. For example, the ancient Roman government fed civilians by providing portions of food like wheat and grain. Even in such a powerful and rich culture, the emperors realized that not all classes had equal access to the daily needs. Today our social systems are much more elaborate and include not only food services but also attend other human needs such as shelter, physical, and emotional well-being.
As an AGI student in Rome, I am fortunate to be part of a group who traveled here to become more knowledgeable on the subject of immigration, forced migration and human trafficking. For the past week, we have been hearing and learning from NGO's and inter-governmental organization. I noticed that two reoccurring themes within these agencies are the concepts of accompaniment and integration.

 We met with representatives of organizations such as Jesuit Refugee Services (JSR) and Centro Astalli, and Caritas Rome which aim to accompany refugees and displaced persons they serve. JSR's mission statement specifically states they accompany, serve and advocate. So, what is accompaniment? What does it mean to accompany refugees? Accompanying someone is much more than to simply provide them with services. It means that these organizations and their staff stand in solidarity with the refugees. They come to know their dreams, fears and losses. It is about building trust; it is to listen to people in order to build a friendship. Accompaniment is a detrimental link in building relationships; however, it does not stand alone. It is a needed requirement along with serving, feeding and educating refugees. Together these services are well rounded, if these organizations were to provide services and education without accompanying the refugees, the efforts would not be as strong or effective due to the lack of trust.

Integration on the other hand is something that is sought strongly from both sides, the refugees and displaced persons as much as the service providers. The State aims to reduce engagement in services by providing educational training that will allow refugees to be more self-reliant. On the other hand, refugees are traveling in search of a country that offers them equal rights. We have to consider that many of them had careers and degrees from their countries of origin and they do not want to start from zero. Refugees are looking for countries to integrate to; they do this through family links and welfare systems that allow them better opportunities for integration.

Centro Astalli and Caritas in Rome are great examples of organizations that incorporate integration programs into their services.  Centro Astalli has programs that integrate the refugees through socio-economic means by training or re-training refugees in order for them to find employment and be able to support themselves.  Our information session for Caritas Rome was held in a small room which was used by refugees to learn Italian.  Colorful posters around the round displayed messages of love through drawings and collages of magazine cutouts. Language immersion, a service provided by Caritas is beneficial to refugees as it enables them to communicate and better integrate into the local culture. Various forms of education are offered at Caritas, besides language services they also offer basic computer and employment workshops.  Education is essential for those looking to settle in a new country as it will allow them to be more productive and economically autonomous.