Container Queens especially, please read :)
The story of our brief time in Milan begins as so many of these volunteer tales do; a flurry of messages between friends, acquaintances, friends of friends until you finally make contact with the person that can tell your everything you need to know. And more often than not, this person turns out to be a former refugee. In this case, the lovely Riad, who was to take us around theHub Project in Milan - even though he should have been tucking into a celebratory pizza for passing his driving test first time. Riad arrived in Italy three years ago and is one of the few Syrians we met who arrived by plane with a visa. He’s now settled in Milan and has a killer Italian accent and great command of the language, as well as being fluent in English and Arabic; basically the perfect guy to show us around.
The Hub is what it sounds like; a welcoming place, of non-judgment, where refugees in Milan can meet, socialise and access the things that they need, whether they have papers and are trying to settle in the city, or are continuing their journey elsewhere. The Hub is situated on the outskirts of the city underneath crumbling, but elegant railway arches. But the greyness of the environs belies the warmth of the people who work and volunteer here.
The Hub is made up of an interlinking series of large rooms underneath the arches. There is a large warehouse here - anyone who says that Italians are disorganised should come and look at how clothing, shampoo and toys are arranged here; it’s one of the most well-run warehouses we have ever set eyes on. Then there is a ticketed clothing distribution point, where refugees can collect the clothing that they need, whether the sun is shining or it’s wet and grey and drizzling.
There is another room with a children’s play area, a cafe serving amazing Italian coffee and snacks, along with a medical area with a well stocked pharmacy and friendly Arabic speaking doctors, as well as a small IT lab with several computers where people can access the internet. There is also a restaurant area where refugees are served hot, delicious and nutritious food, with good music and a really great ambience. Many refugees volunteer here as well as locals - we really liked hanging out there.
But perhaps the most impressive space at the Hub is the sleeping quarters. Behind the main public arches is a sleeping area which offers shelter to up to 400 hundred people, for up to ten days at a time, regardless of what their legal status is. On the grey and cold and wet day that we visited, we realised what a lifeline this was for people who may but shut out of more official structures for various reasons.
The Hub is run by Progetto Arca, an Italian organisation which operates in several Italian cities, helping refugees and poor and homeless members of the Italian community - it doesn’tdiscriminate, it just helps those who need it. Riad is part of a group of volunteers called SOSERM who support the Hub as well as various other projects in the city. Their main duties in this project are to provide tea and snacks, as well as gap filling where needed. They also often payfor monthly travel passes for refugees choosing to settle in Milan, so they can access the services they need, without having to dip into the 75 euro monthly stipend issued by the government.
Sam and I both felt that this is the type of project that should be replicated across Europe - we were really, really impressed with the simplicity of what the Hub was trying to achieve, but the skill that it was executed with and what a massive impact it had on so many people’s lives.
We were also made to feel so welcome and we met lots of interesting people and activists who work their socks off to make the project successful, but also took the time to give us helpful information about fantastic projects in other Italian cities. We really want to thank everyone we met for helping us so much, being so friendly and plying us with fantastic coffee!
One thing that struck us - and this is something that would continue to come to our minds elsewhere in Italy - is how the project was entirely reliant on Italian support, whether donations of goods or money. The only ‘foreign’ shipments the Hub gets are from Switzerland. We couldn’t help but feel that there are lots of people further afield in Europe who would be happy to supportgreat projects like this.
If you want to volunteer or make a donation to SOS ERM, please contact their FB page https://www.facebook.com/soserm/
If you want to donate to Progetto Arca, please do so through their website - Italian only! https://www.progettoarca.org/
But volunteers and staff were keen to tell us that they really need more clothing donations, specifically they are always short of men’s clothing - size S/M - and men’s socks and underwear. They have the space and capacity to receive large deliveries, so where are all our containe people at? Contact me if you can help in this way, the aid really will be well-managed and go to agood home :)
So we reluctantly said “Ciao” from Milan and move onwards into the rain of the Italian lakes. We made a donation to SOS ERM to help them pay for travel costs for refugees in Milan, so thank you to everyone who has donated for making that possible. We have some great projects lined up to visit and we need your continued support to help us help them!
You can donate here! https://gogetfunding.com/refugeereliefroadtrip/
You are free and responsible to make your own personal moral decision about what to do about this, but consider that there are now thousands of volunteers who befriended refugees over the last few years who share the experience of moral alienation from the conventional ‘mainstream’ European society now. A burning sense of injustice and moral alienation cannot be suppressed even if we wanted to, so we should reflect and then plan how to direct that fire of righteous anger wisely and well.
Is Greece unnecessarily and perhaps unwittingly putting more refugees at risk?
According to the EU-Turkey statement, “all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey”.
One of the main modifications brought about by Greek law has been the establishment of an extremely truncated fast-track border procedure, applicable in exceptional cases.
Has Greece ever been under more pressure to resolve the growing challenges created by the influx of asylum seekers and migrants than during this week?
Two reports, with conflicting recommendations have been focused on Greece this week. One, in a hypercritical attempt to force Greece to resolve a situation which is undoubtedly and for the most part, caused by the EU-Turkey deal further compounded by the lack of solidarity from other EU countries to relocate people.
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John Owens writes for RefuComm on the fragile and complicated situation for refugees trapped on the Island of Chios.