“We have to deal with the slowness of the Italian bureaucracy machine. If there is an appointment at the police station, you’ll most likely spend the rest of the morning there, with 50% chance the procedure won’t be closed on that same day.”
More than 10,000 people have lost their lives in hopeful, but dangerous, journeys to a safer Europe, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Because of Italy’s proximity to war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, as well as conflict-ridden countries such as Eritrea, Somalia and Nigeria, it has been the focal point of migratory movements – with the Mediterranean Sea becoming the stage for thousands of tragic deaths.
But what actually happens to refugees once they reach the Italian shores?
The asylum seeking process
The IPF spoke to Asilo in Europa, an Italian organisation who protect the rights of asylum seekers, as well as conduct analyses of European and Italian asylum laws.
They explained that the first stage of Italy’s asylum seeking process requires refugees to stay in “primary” reception centres under the government’s management. Here, they are provided with first aid, food and shelter. Once they have been identified, had their applications lodged and their health checks completed, they should be moved to “secondary” reception centres.
These are run by the SPRAR (System for Protection of Asylum Seekers and Refugees) network, which is managed by local entities. According to Asilo in Europa, conditions in the SPRAR centres are often better than those in the primary centres due to “integrated support” offered to the asylum seekers. Alongside food and shelter, refugees are also given assistance with their socio-economic integration, legal aid and psychological support.
But SPRAR only has a limited number of places – 27,000, to be exact. Although this is a significant increase from the 10,000 places they had at the beginning of 2014, the vast majority of asylum seekers are currently hosted in a third type of shelter, known as CAS. These are “extraordinary” structures managed by local prefectures, which Asilo in Europa said offers standards of treatment that are generally lower than SPRAR’s.
Working within reception centres
Sara works as a SPRAR Operator in the city of Monza. Her work involves supporting refugees through every step of the integration process, which she described as “slow and inefficient” due to Italian bureaucracy.
“We have to deal with the slowness of the Italian bureaucracy machine,” she told the IPF. “If there is an appointment at the police station, you’ll most likely spend the rest of the morning there, with 50% chance the procedure won’t be closed on that same day.”
She also explained that there was a lack of accuracy in registering the names of refugees when they first arrive in Italy. This then makes it difficult for them to get passports or health insurance.
“Sometimes they have been signed up with a wrong name – and sometimes with only a letter.”
Reception centres’ main issues
When asked about the problems with reception centres, Sara explained that the lack of internal organisation and safety for staff is what was holding the centres back. She noted that working autonomously is a requirement for a SPRAR Operator, but wished that there was more group work to safeguard staff from potential risks.
“For a young woman, like me, it could be unsafe to get into an apartment of all men and talk about important and delicate subjects. So far nothing has happened to me, but I often don’t feel safe.”
Putting aside the risks Sara feels working at the centres, she also commented on the affectivity of the SPRAR centres themselves. Sara said that refugees aren’t always able to fully integrate despite their personalised support – especially when it comes to looking for a job.
“Our users have the possibility to integrate, but the majority can’t find a job or traineeship, or any real and long-term contract. This is due to a critical economic situation in the country in general, but also because some are not happy to have them here.”