On Friday, April 13, the 22nd Annual Report 2023 of Centro Astalli, the Jesuit Refugee Service, was presented in Rome’s Teatro Argentina.

Present were Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi, archbishop of Bologna and president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference; the mayor of Rome, Roberto Gualtieri; and the president of Centro Astalli, Father Camillo Ripamonti. Journalist Bianca Berlinguer moderated the event.

The Sisters of Charity have long collaborated actively with the reality of Centro Astalli, offering their operational help within the centers, scattered throughout the Roman territory, and offering housing solutions for an initial insertion of refugees.

Data from the report – Accompany, Serve, Defend

“The Report recounts a stretch of the road we took in 2022 with many asylum seekers and refugees, about 10,000 people accompanied in the city of Rome alone and 18,000 if we consider the whole country.”

Father Camillo Ripamonti

In 2022, 105,129 migrants arrived in Italy by sea. Among them were 13,386 unaccompanied minors. The national reception system recorded 107,677 admissions. To date, most of these people are helped by extraordinary reception centers (CAS), which do not always guarantee essential services in the accompaniment routes. Centro Astalli manages both extraordinary reception centers (Trento, Vicenza, Padua) and the Sistema Accoglienza e Integrazione – SAI network (Bologna, Palermo, Rome, Trento), and points precisely to the latter SAI network as a tool in which to invest, so that effective integration support can be guaranteed, according to uniform national standards.

Necessary to accompany these people, who if they are not immediately considered part of the community and if specific paths are not structured for them, will very soon be destined to be excluded and to be on the margins.”

Father Camillo Ripamonti

Welcoming with dignity is possible

Journalist Bianca Berlinguer opened the speech by highlighting a positive case, the arrival of 170,000 Ukrainians.

“There has been no xenophobia, no social alarm, no bitter political conflicts either, no particular cases of racism or discrimination are known. The newcomers fit into an already solid Ukrainian community, they have white skin, they are Christian, and they are fleeing a war that we know about and is on our borders.”

The consequent reflection is that it has been shown through this reception how it is possible to welcome refugees with dignity, as Centro Astalli is careful to do.

“But Italy does not capitalize on the Ukrainian experience and fails to get out of the logic of emergency“. On the contrary, the Report points out, “it seemed as if there were two parallel paths: one for Ukrainians and one for everyone else. In reality these are people in the same condition.”

“The challenge of integration is a possible challenge, a demanding challenge, but it is a challenge that can give a lot not only to the people seeking refuge but also and especially to the community that welcomes and integrates them.”

Roberto Gualtieri.

International protection and the burden of bureaucracy

One of the issues that still prevents a dignified reception is bureaucracy. This undermines the very access to international protection and integration pathways. The digital divide risks increasing social inequality and marginality, just as the housing emergency is a concern.

Another of the issues raised is the government’s renewed fight against NGOs involved in rescue at sea.

Where is your refugee brother? Where is your refugee sister?

Also in relation to the government’s decisions, Father Camillo Ripamonti recalled that on Tuesday, April 11, a state of emergency was declared “in relation to the exceptional increase in the flow of migrants entering the national territory through the Mediterranean migratory routes.” The president of Centro Astalli does not hide “a certain bitterness and disappointment in the face of this umpteenth measure. “These are not new numbers“.

“The report,” Father Ripamonti continues, “is the commentary and the response to this measure […]. Policies on immigration that are humane are the answer to the increase in flows, and not a policy that runs the risk of lacking planning and vision, a policy without a future.”