"REFUGEE ROAD TRIP UPDATE - with Sam part 2"

Peggy Whitfield   02.04.2017

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 the
Hub 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 support
great projects like this.

If you want to volunteer or make a donation to SOS ERM, please contact their FB page

If you want to donate to Progetto Arca, please do so through their website - Italian only!

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 a
good 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!

Grazie mille!

More Comment

"Wanted by the police! The RefuComm team"

Sharon Silvey   18.09.2017

RefuComm is surprised to find themselves on the front page of Politico Greece today on Chios.

Although we are very grateful for the publicity for our amazing micro SD card project, which has been rolled out on Chios this week, following our research in June and July where we tested it's effectiveness, we find it slightly disturbing, and also slightly amusing that we are the subject of police scrutiny, by no less than a "top official" in the Greek police force.

Read here

"So why is no-one talking about Samos?"

Sharon Silvey   18.09.2017

The island of Samos, in the media spotlight for much of 2016 and the first few months of 2017, appears to have dropped off the radar.

Sharon Silvey reports on conditions there and asks they the situation is not being reported.

Read Here.

"Helping Humans to Help Themselves."

Sharon Silvey   18.09.2017

RefuComm have been providing information to people seeking international protection for two years now and through our constant interaction with refugees and by asking and listening to what they tell us, we have moved swiftly to provide them with what they tell us they need.

"Call for Solidarity from RefuComm"

Sharon Silvey   06.08.2017
Souda Camp Closure
The Refucomm team spent a lot of time on Chios in June and July 2017, getting under the skin of the problem of information provision and trialing our micro SD card project.
When we arrived in June 2017 there were over a thousand people ‘living’ in terrible conditions in Souda and the dearth of media attention has highlighted the absolute disgrace of people being left there for so long.
No one should have had to live like this. Not when the EU has provided such huge sums to take care of refugees stuck in Greece. In the winter we watched people freezing in the snow, dying trying to keep warm and now summer is here people are living in blazing heat with no protection from the sun. The water is regularly cut off. It is not a proper shelter, it never was. The long waits while Greece sorts out their procedures led to self immolation. The stain of Chios will live long in history.
But let us not forget that there is a strong sense of community at Souda, the camp is near the town centre and people can escape the mundane long days and months of waiting for the Greek authorities to sort themselves out in friendly community centres and at least distract themselves from the conditions they are living in. The fear is that Vial will eventually become a closed centre again, as it was in the beginning, and people will be isolated in Vial with no witnesses to tell the story of what happens to them from here.
There are only about 300 people living in Souda right now (despite sensationalist posts by volunteers who say otherwise and misrepresent the situation from afar). Last night we got a message from one of our interpreters on Chios that Souda ‘camp’ will be closed by the end of August. Friends of friends at the municipality confirm that this is the case.
These are people who fled their homes, and now they are living with uncertainty again. Some will be sent to Vial and some to the mainland.

We must not forget them when they are in Vial or wherever else they are sent.

RefuComm has already made careful preparations to track their progress and potential difficulties that might come with isolation, by setting up Whatsapp groups, grouped by language and by gender, with interpreters in each chat, so that we can give legal and emergency assistance and people can tell us what is happening to them.
Next week, thanks to the outstanding success of our micro SD card trial in July, we will be sending 200 micro SD cards into Vial for people who haven’t yet had their interviews so that they have access to information about the procedures and interview preparation. The price of the card will be to join our whatsapp groups. Thank you to all those who donated the SD cards to enable this. It really is essential now, more than ever, that people stay connected and we are racing against the clock to get it done.
We have set up a deportation line with our amazing partners at Refugee Infobus so that people can report potential deportation. Deportation advice and numbers for support groups in Turkey are included. We can track what happens to people. If their phones are confiscated by the authorities they still have the SD card which includes support numbers for them and a record of their important documents.

We will not forget them, we have it covered.

In the longer term, we are rethinking our plans for Greece. Micro SD cards are needed for the other Islands. Things are changing becoming more and more uncertain for the refugees with the absence of EU funded NGO’s. Chios is an example of how things are changing, The EU is putting more and more pressure on Greece to clear the Islands. It is imperative that we are ready to continue to help people.
We are asking everyone to pull together now and put plans in place to make sure people are assisted in creative ways and we need to move fast.
This is a new reality, and we are agile enough and smart enough to beat the system, aren’t we? Isn’t that what we are good at?
Please help us to help people to support themselves. We need volunteers to help us to load and distribute SD cards on the Islands and we need funds for SD cards and printing of instruction leaflets

Join us today in solidarity and help us to get information to refugees who we may not have access to for much longer.

The RefuComm Team