Living in Italy we see refugees on a daily basis. They are hard at work all hours of the day – some have jobs at local businesses and others are selling trinkets outside popular tourist destinations, walking in the cold streets selling anything from Kleenex to toys, lighters, mittens and bracelets. While you eat a delicious meal in a cozy, warm restaurant they come in and try to sell you roses at your table.
Paul and I have only had positive interactions with refugees. When we’ve spoken to them they’ve shared stories of their families and daily struggles. We’ve also only seen good reactions from Italian citizens. Last week when we were enjoying a cappuccino at a neighborhood café, a refugee came in and spoke with the old Italian man working behind the cafe bar. They seemed to have had this exchange before. They were laughing and catching up about daily life.
Another time on the bus I saw an older Italian woman begin to talk to a young woman wearing a hijab. The older woman said, “I have seen you on my bus route many times. Your hijab is beautiful and you are beautiful.” What has stood out to me is the warmth local Florentines have for people coming to their city for a better and safer existence.
Following Friday night’s Christmas tree lighting in the Piazza Del Duomo the surrounding buildings, bridges and basilicas became a canvas of light projections. This year’s theme was “Frontiere,” which translates to “Borders.” The theme highlighted the global refugee crisis. You can see the whole program here for the full program: see the website.
A daily average of 600 men, women and children arrive to Italy having made the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea from Libya, North Africa. Italy is currently hosting 175,000 refugees.
Did you know that from January 1st, 2017 to October 31st, 2017, 111,397 reported migrants arrived to Italy by sea? Reported arrivals by sea last year in 2016 were even higher at 181,436 reported migrants: http://migration.iom.int/docs/2016_Flows_to_Europe_Overview.pdf
Most of these refugees come from the countries of Nigeria, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Bangladesh, Mali, and Sudan. Besides those coming by boat, The International Organization for Migration in Italy manages a resettlement program financed by Italy’s Ministry of Interior. Under this program, 782 migrants have been resettled to Italy since the beginning of the year from Lebanon, Turkey, Sudan, Syria and Jordan. The 81% of migrants resettled in 2017 are of Syrian nationality. You can see a more in depth report on the Italian refugee crisis here: http://migration.iom.int/docs/Monthly_Flows_Compilation_Report_October_2017.pdf
Many refugees do not reach their final destination. They die from drowning, dehydration, starvation, and hypothermia while journeying across the Mediterranean in inadequate boats.
This week a small town located outside of Bologna, Castenaso, unveiled a local nativity scene that depicted Joseph, Mary, and Jesus inside a small rubber dinghy, a vessel similar to the rickety boats used by refugees and migrants during their dangerous trips across the Mediterranean Sea from Africa and the Middle East.
How is the biblical tale of Jesus and his family escaping their homeland much different than what we see today across Europe? Jesus was a refugee. How can we offer today’s refugees with comfort, safety, and the opportunity to achieve their dreams?
This year, I’ve decided to donate to the following organizations. I invite you to check these organizations out for yourself. I’d be so happy if you’d consider donating to the millions of refugees in Europe:
Locally we are donating to the following organizations that help refugees in Italy:
Caritas Firneze: This local Florence organization through the Catholic archdiocese offers housing, and employment programs for refugees. They are also connected to the national Italian, “Caritas” organization that gives refugee help throughout Italy.
The Joel Nafuma Refugee Center (JNRC) in Rome is a day center for refugees. There services include basic assistance to settlement support. A typical day at JNRC begins with a breakfast served at 9:30 am. Items such as razors, toothbrushes, socks and second hand clothing and shoes are distributed from the Supply Room from 10:15am-12:00 pm. English, Italian, and French classes are offered as well. Refugees can enjoy foosball, ping pong, and watch movies or news bulletins from around the world. Twice a week, JNRC runs an Employment Clinic, preparing CVs in Italian and assisting refugees with online searches for jobs or training opportunities. They also offer art, music, psychotherapy programs, and legal support to help people rebuild their lives in Rome after the trauma of fleeing their home country.
International organizations we will be donating to:
UNHCR. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees includes interpreting services, legal information, and basic aids for refugees. The institution provides basic humanitarian assistance, such as water, energy bars, sleeping bags, and sanitary kits. It can mobilize over 300 professionals to assist 600,000 people within 2 hours from the emergency.
Help Refugees. Help Refugees provides aid and advocates for refugees. They support over 70 projects worldwide with funding, food, shelter and volunteers. The fill in the gaps left by governments and large NGOs. They have been able to respond to refugee needs in an urgent way.
International Rescue Committee The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future.
ALL PHOTOS BELOW BELONG TO Massimo Sestini is an Italian photographer based in Florence, Italy. His photograph of a boat with refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea won him the 2015 World Press Photo award for General News, second prize singles.
To experience the journey through a refugee’s eyes, go to this award winning multimedia exhibit by the Washington Post: https://www.worldpressphoto.org/collection/multimedia/2017/innovative-storytelling/the-waypoint