Integration of Refugees: Systemic Policies and Personal Responses
|Our speaker at Caritas Rome|
|Posters made by refugees who are studying Italian at Caritas Rome|
|Fr Thomas Smolich, SJ, International Director of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) speaks about the importance of “accompanying” the refugees.|
Despite the glum reality for the refugees and the displaced, we also saw hope and light when we learned of the wonderful work various organizations are doing to provide necessary and personal help. The Ministry of Interior started a program called SPRAR (The Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees) in 2002 where the national government funds and oversees the refugee integration programs that are organized and managed at the local municipality levels. Since 2015 this initiative has grown to incorporate over 700 programs in Italy. By cooperating with the network of local institutions, they are able to implement better reception projects that are meeting the specific needs of the refugees and forced migrants in each municipality. The speaker from SPRAR program said, “we provide tools for integration but integration is a personal process.” This appeared to me as an honest and humane response. We can’t just lump all refugee experience and integration process into one homogenous practice. Government policies and responses have to take into consideration that each refugee experience is particular and distinct, and the help for the integration process has to happen at the ground level for individuals.
Another speaker from Caritas Rome has expressed a similar sentiment. Caritas is an international organization that is inspired by the Catholic faith. With the goal of helping the poor and the vulnerable regardless of race or religion, Caritas Rome is working hard to provide housing, meals, counseling, and legal services to over 30,000 users every year. Our host talked emotionally about many unexpressed and complicated needs each refugee has when adjusting to a completely new culture and language, embedded in unfamiliar legal and social systems. She spoke of one of the happiest endings that she witnessed in her many years of working at Caritas. The story was of a young man from Ivory Coast who was matched with an Italian family that “adopted” him. This family walked closely with this young man through his integration process. This young man, with the immediate and kind help of this family, became entirely independent within a year and is now working as a chef. This story emphasizes the importance of deep human connection in any human development and success. It also echoes what Father Thomas Smolich, the International Director of Jesuit Refugee Service shared with us. JRS, whose mission is to “Accompany, Serve, and Advocate,” stresses the importance of providing close and direct contact with the forcibly displaced persons. Father Tom said, “when you feel alone your personal demons are stronger whether you are a refugee or not.” He emphasized the need to be companions to those who are lacking social network in the new world in which these refugees find themselves. This is probably why Pope Francis called on European parishes and religious communities to offer true welcome and shelter to migrant families in 2015. This is also the reason why he launched Share the Journey campaign in 2017. When human connections are formed, refugees transform from being “those others” to “one of us.” The success of a true integrative process for the refugees depends on the receptiveness of the host communities as much as it does on the efforts of the refugee and displaced people.
This week spent at AGI-Rome made me realize that a comprehensive and holistic response for the refugee crisis must incorporate both systemic public policy and personal receptiveness at multiple levels of host communities. If current refugee crisis is not an emergency situation but an endemic situation as the NGO worker claimed, it is even more critical that the integration responses are infused with fundamental human kindness and empathy.
For additional helpful thoughts on the integration process for Europe’s refugees, you can read:
· McKinsey Global Institute’s November 2016 report
· World Economic Forum’s research
· UNHCR’s 2013 report