A pro-refugees rally in Pozzallo, Sicily | Photo: ANSA/ANDREA SCARFO
A pro-refugees rally in Pozzallo, Sicily | Photo: ANSA/ANDREA SCARFO

"Refugees Welcome" gets Italian citizens to open their homes and their hearts to refugees and migrants. Well over 100 families have participated in the initiative in the last two years.

A total of 120 households across Italy have hosted refugees and migrants between 2016 and 2018 as part of the "Refugees Welcome" project. They invite a migrant to live with them in their home as part of a voluntary project designed to better integrate refugees and migrants in Italy - by making them part of a local families.

At the end of 2018, 31 refugees are still cohabiting with their host families, with eight of the original pilot cases having since become permanent arrangements. 

Laura Pinzani's family is one of those that originally welcomed a migrant in their home. "I wanted my son to meet people who didn't have the advantages and peace that he and the majority of Italian kids enjoy growing up. And I wanted him to realize just how fortunate he is to have been born here," Pinzani told the ANSA news agency.

Cultural differences put aside

Pinzani added that that her life is richer now for having Sahal Omar, a Somali refugee, in it. She believes that Omar's presence in her home has been highly beneficial to her whole family. Omar meanwhile told ANSA that he is happy to lead a "normal life" in his new home, and that he is grateful for having found a job in Italy.

The "Refugees Welcome" initiative is considered to be a major facilitator in the integration of migrants, who often know very little about their host countries. In Omar's case, however, Pinzani said that there were no major cultural issues regardless of their different backgrounds: "We only have to remember to warn him when something has pork in it."

Laura Pinzani is one of the biggest promoters of the project. She reports that she simply wanted to "do something, to be active and welcoming" toward refugees when she found the "Refugees Welcome" initiative. That was several years ago.

Her life with a migrant under her roof has since become routine. Pinzani and Omar have even signed a cohabitation agreement, detailing the rules and responsibilities of their arrangement. This idea has received widespread support among activists who believe in promoting further integration by helping refugees and migrants share their everyday life with a local family.

Growing popularity for 'Refugees Welcome' program

The majority of migrants enrolled in the program live in Italy under a residence permit given for humanitarian reasons (58 percent), followed by those classed as refugees (20 percent) and, lastly, migrants granted subsidiary protection (16 percent). There are also some single parents and people with special needs enrolled in the initiative, according to organizers.

On average, participants in the program live in Italy for nearly three years before eventually moving in with an Italian family registered with "Refugees Welcome." The initiative reports that things might speed up in future, as a growing number of households have volunteered to host migrants in recent months.

The regions of Lazio and Lombardy register the highest number of participants in the initiative, while Rome is regarded as the "most hospitable" city in the program with 30 active cohabitation arrangements between Italian nationals and migrants.


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