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We are accustomed to “think” about refugees as desperate people who arrive on the Italian shores with one sole intention: to survive and move further, to northern Europe, where they hope to find a better future. We welcome them, sometimes with distrust. But there are also people who see them as a threat, and as a consequence, confronts them with hostility. Refugees talk little, we understand them less, and this inability to know each other better generates suspicion which too often turns into racism. What shall we do in order to overcome yet another “wall”?

One such possibility has been created by the Centre for Immigration, Asylum and International Cooperation, a no-profit organization situated in Parma, that has been involved for a long time now in initiatives of second reception for the refugees who have been landing on the southern coasts of the Italian peninsula during the last months. The main idea of the project is to bring together young Italian university students and refugees in the PSASR (Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees); they will share an apartment without paying the rent, but doing social activities and volunteering in the apartment block itself and in the district where it is located. This is a project of social housing called “Tandem”. The Immigration Centre for Asylum and Cooperation (ICAC) manages the PSASR service and works with about 150 refugees.

“In a widespread climate of hostility towards immigrants, many people decided to partake in this initiative and to do something personally, perhaps even as a response to what is currently happening in society – tells the coordinator Chiara Marchetti, the manager of the Tandem project- our expectation is that those people who have walked a very difficult paths and whose situation is often dramatic,  can build a new path towards autonomy by relating to other people. Tandem was born “because today we can observe a worrying level of intolerance towards migrants -says the president of the ICAC – so we said to ourselves: let us create something that brings together different people and give them the possibility of living active citizenship.

This is part of the welcoming project limited only to those migrants who have obtained the status of political refugees. The purpose is not merely that of giving place where to live to those who are fleeing from war, in search of a better future, but also to give them the possibility to build social bonds with Italian young people who are more or less their same age, to become a part of the city’s social fabric, and to be accepted by people living in the same district. And this is, perhaps, the hardest challenge, because the four apartments that are available, are located in different areas of the city, in the ”hot” neighbourhoods of Parma, where there is a major concentration of foreigners, elderly, and families in difficult situations. Hence, they do not aim only at fostering integration but also at helping those who have been living in those areas for a long time and need support. A slap in the face of intolerance that is particularly marked in the north of Italy.

The organization of voluntary service and of the other activities will be managed by the tenants themselves, who after a period of training with the operators of the ICAC, should be able to give origin to a series of initiatives, such as theatre laboratories, language courses, entertainment shows for the elderly and children living in their neighbourhood, as well as general care. Marchetti explains that “we have not yet determined how many hours of voluntary service those young people will have to provide in order to  cover their rent, because we are still waiting for the results of a contest we have participated at. Once we know how much money we have, we will begin the project”.

At any rate, in order to ensure that the project takes off, we will need the funding coming from the eight-per-thousand contest of the Waldesian Church in which the no-profit organisation has participated. “We hope it is going to arrive in the near future – concludes Marchetti- because we are interested in working with the refugees without losing sight of the wider climate of xenophobia we are trying to contrast by spreading projects that involve directly families and Italian people. We hope this initiative will have positive effects on the whole territory. If the economic resources do not arrive – emphasizes the manager – we will start the project in any case, as a pilot: probably with just one apartment and involving a smaller number of people. The goal is to start by the end of the year”.

The scenario in which this project  develops is much broader though: only in the province of Parma there are more than 400 migrants who live in different centres for second reception while awaiting their  residence permits or for their refugee status to be acknowledged (in fact, we are considering the idea of inserting in Tandem project also a flat in Fidenza, a nearby town).  On the territory of the entire Emilia-Romagna region data provided by the prefecture talk of more than 4,600 presences. After having stayed at the Bologna hub, where foreigners are identified and where they undergo health screenings, those people are sent to different centres of the region.

If developed at the national level, this idea could really assist the process of integration which is too often used merely as a slogan, good for a few election campaigns or for a conference.

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