Project Stories:

Sicily: help right from the heart

Project visit to the humedica refugee aid in Italy

by Lisa Wolff,  2018/11/13

Although at the moment hardly any new refugees arrive in Europe, the situation remains tense and insecure for the people, who have mastered the dangerous route over the Mediterranean Sea. Previously, many of them have lived and worked for many years in Northern Africa. Only when politics started to change they had to continue their way to Europe. Since several years now humedica supports two projects in Sicily, which try to give the refugees a new perspective and to assist them in starting a new life over there. humedica employee Lisa Wolff visited the project partners and accompanied their work for four days. In the following report she shares her experiences.

Day 1: A new life in Sicily

I am on my way to Caltanissetta, the so-called "navel of Sicily". In fact, I really have a good gut feeling, when Enos and Margherita Nolli come to fetch me at the airport in Catania. For our partner organization GiM (Gioventú in Missione) they organise the refugee aid on this island as well as on three other sites in Italy. Their passion for their work is obvious from the first moment I meet them.

In Caltanissetta we visit a family from Pakistan, which has been receiving help from GiM for four years now. Jan was the first to arrive here. Later on his wife and his daughter could follow him to Italy, the two sons where already borne here. In his home country he worked as a software engineer and IT manager, here he runs a small business, where he offers computer equipment repairs and other technical services. It was not easy to come this far. Enos and Margarita Nolli supported Jan and later on also the whole family – with emotional ad pastoral care, but also with hands-on support like food and seed capital for his business. They are greeted by Jan and his wife by "Mamma" and "Baba". The children are excited and run out to meet them. The help here comes right from the heart.

Von humedica und GiM unterstützter Flüchtling aus Pakistan vor seinem Laden in Italien

In Pakistan Jan worked as a software engineer and IT manager, in Caltanissetta he runs a small business offering technical repair services. Photo: humedica

"Our support in Caltanissetta started mainly as a form of mobile support. Many refugees lived on the streets under bridges, even in winter time. We distributed clothing, carpets, shoes and food. humedica provided a lot of these items." reports Enos Nolli. GiM also cares for needy Italians. "In Sicily the number of people without a job is generally high." continues Enos. The Sicilian inhabitants and the refugees both face the same challenges.

But in the meantime the situation has not only changed in this heart of Sicily, but also in the rest of Italy it has changed dramatically. And along with also the help measures of GiM and the support of humedica have changed.

"Most of the smaller refugee centers have been closed down and the people were brought to bigger camps." Enos tells us. About 600 people live in the camp of Caltanissetta at the moment. The Italian government tries to hamstring the mobile help in order to prevent illegal immigration.

Joint supper in Piedimonte Etneo

Not far from the GiM center in Piedimonte Etneo we are sitting down to share the evening meal with Mustafa and his family shortly afterwards. They come from Marocco. Mustafa arrived three years ago, his wife and the two teenage children followed him one year ago. Enos and his team have already been supporting them for a longer period of time. Mustafa provides for his family by running a small sales booth. "If it rains tomorrow, I will sell umbrellas." jokes Mustafa.

Von humedica und GiM unterstützter Flüchtling aus Marokko beim Teetrinken mit GiM-Leiter

Mustafa and his family serve the guests from GiM and humedica delicious Moroccan tea for supper. Photo: humedica

Six different nationalities are sitting at the supper table enjoying their time together – and the delicious Couscous Tajine, which Fatihah, Mustafa´s wife, prepared for us. "If we can do this on a small scale, why does it not work on a larger scale?" Mustafa asks our round. We go to bed with many thoughts on our mind.

Day 2: The biggest refugee camp in Italy

"At the moment hardly any refugees arrive here in Sicily. The boats are not allowed to dock here." explains Margherita Nolli. Today we visit the biggest refugee camp of Italy: Mineo. I am told that in the high times of the refugee crisis approximately 5.000 people used to be housed here. At present about 3.000 refugees live here, originally the former residential complex for American soldier families was meant to accommodate less than half this number.

We meet six young men, two of them from Ghana, two from the Ivory coast. They all are already here for at least six months, one of them for two years. His first asylum application had failed, he now waits for the result of the appeal. All here wait for the results of the commission, the decision whether they will be allowed to stay here and work. And if so, for how long.

Enos goes regularly to the camp to meet them. We exchange our experiences and discuss the current developments in the political sector that also have consequences for the everyday life of the refugees. The personnel in the camps has for example been reduced by half. The bus tickets to the city center to Catania, which have been provided for free to date, now must be paid for. There are only 60 places in the bus for approximately 3.000 refugees in the camp so that they have quite long waiting lists.

GiM-Leiter mit Flüchtlingen und über humedica gespendeten Jacken

Head of GiM Enos Nolli provides the six young men from Ghana and the Ivory Coast with winter coats donated by humedica. Photo: humedica

Still all are grateful to be allowed to stay in Sicily. Grateful to have survived their flight over the Mediterranean Sea. Most of them have lived and worked previously in Lybia. Due to the political changes they had to set out for Europe. Now they must be patient and wait for the decision whether they are allowed to stay. As of late it is no longer possible to make appeals. If they are refused, they have to leave Italy. But where will they go?

But today the news are positive: after living in the camp for one and a half year, one of the young men is granted the right to stay on for two years. He will leave the camp in the next days and try to build a new life for himself. He is not picky with regard to jobs, instead he is grateful to have been granted the chance to apply for a job again – of whatever kind. Grateful to be able to build a life for himself – at least for the two years he is allowed to stay.

The winter is at the doors, in Sicily this means also that the cold season is about to start. Enos has brought coats, humedica donations in kind, which have been sent over. Shortly afterwards the six young men stand before us, grateful and dressed in warm jackets. We wish them all the best and God´s blessing, before we start our journey back to Catania.

Day 3: Open doors and hearts in Ragusa

From Catania I am travelling on to Ragusa. Here Francesco and Tina Iuzzolini and their Organization Missione Tre V onlus run since several years an Open House, an open meeting point for refugees. Here everybody, who pays a visit to the Corso Italia, is welcomed from the heart. At once I feel welcomed and included in this cosy and warm atmosphere.

The team from Tre V onlus has grown in the last years along with the number of refugees, who have arrived. The premises often are not big enough to cover the enormous demand, the Open House has become an important contact point in Ragusa. In the sense of the word a "drop-in center". A community of international volunteers offer language courses in Italian and English, sewing and computer workshops, but most important of all mutual respect, an open ear and an environment, where you can relax and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee with nice people.

Teilnehmer des Englischkurses im von humedica unterstützten Open House in Ragusa

The Tre V onlus volunteers create a welcoming atmosphere in the language and technics trainings, where you not only are able to learn, but also to relax. Photo: humedica

Thanks to the donations from Germany humedica can assist to finance these premises as well as two qualified teachers. This financial aid is completed by donations in kind: the nearing winter will be hard – now the people can come to the Open House to get warm clothing and shoes.

Today an Italian course takes place – also for me "molto bene" and informative. In a neighboring room other people meet to play cards, while the children are cared for so that the (often single) mothers are able to attend the course.

Kartenspielen im von humedica unterstützten Open House für Flüchtlinge in Ragusa

A second room in the Open House Ragusa offers the possibility to meet for a cup of tea, to read or to play together. Photo: humedica

The stories and fates of the people here are as numerous as their nationalities. Many of them visit regularly already for some time and appreciate obviously the genuine interest they are met with. Others are here for the first time.

However, despite all the familiarity there is a great insecurity about what the future will bring. It is to be felt everywhere within the team and among the refugees. Even so less refugees arrive here today, there are still many people in the camps, who wait for the results of their applications. "The prolonged stay in the camps also influences their needs and the requirements for our help.", says Tina Iuzzolini. Above all it is the situation of the people, which undergoes changes, of the people, who have come here to find security and stability. The uncertainty as well as the feeling not to be welcome, is difficult to bear. At the moment there simply is no ideal solution. "Even so we are not able to offer a satisfactory solution for this problem to the refugees, we would like to show them by our offers that they are not alone, that they are important to us, that we are willing to accompany them on their way as far as possible and necessary." Tina continues.

Francesco does not only visit the Open House, he also meets many other refugees around Ragusa and observes how the situation is changing everywhere. "Many smaller camps are closed down and the people are brought to other places. We aim to stay a constant contact point for them."

Day 4: From and for the Open House

The team around Francesco and Tina reaches this aim also by offering several courses. Two times a week for example Ferial passes on her knowledge as a dressmaker and fashion designer. In her home country, the Lebanon, she had run successfully an atelier with several employees. She used to produce for many well-known clients of the Arabian world. After her escape she, too, has found help in the Open House. Today she belongs to the team and passes on, what she has experienced on her own, to all people, who drop in searching for support.

Also the mood in the English conversion training taking place Friday afternoon is excellent. The group is mixed, a baby is sleeping in a pram on the side, a small child is entertained by a team member so that its mother can focus better on the content of the course. The topic of the day: "Time".

The question about time

Time in the Open House is precious. Nobody knows exactly what the future brings, how long you have to wait for the result of your individual application, how the situation for the refugees and the public opinion will change. This makes time in the Open House even more precious. It is a time, when everybody is welcome and accepted. A time, which is filled with kindness. A time, I had the chance to witness for a short moment. A time, which we at humedica would love to support as long as possible.

Please support us to keep on offering a better perspective to the people in Sicily. Thank you so much.

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