What are Sprars and why they are important: interview with Francesca Oggiano

Francesca Oggiano, EMISEI project participant and Italian language teacher for migrants.

The second interview in the “Migration” section is dedicated to an in-depth analysis of the Sprars System (System for the protection of asylum seekers and refugees), established by law no. 189/2002, which introduced reception measures organised with the involvement of central and local institutions and the cooperation of third sector bodies.

The small Sprars centres are an optimal model for the integration of migrants, ensuring more efficient management than the large Extraordinary Reception Centres (SACs).

To learn more about the topic, we asked some questions to Francesca Oggiano, EMISEI project participant and Italian language teacher for migrants.

Could you explain how a Sprar works and why it is important in Italy?

The Sprar is a protection service for asylum seekers and refugees, established by the Ministry of the Interior (Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration of the Viminale) and managed by Anci (the Association of Italian Municipalities).

The Sprar system is a network system, which stands out and differs enormously from the large SACs (extraordinary reception centres). Small reception centers, few people and families, many projects of socio-economic integration of refugees and asylum seekers organized with the support of the Third Sector: cooperatives, associations and non-profit organizations that deal with vocational training courses, integration into the labor market, Italian language courses, creation of micro cooperatives, etc..

Sprar centres can be of different types: ordinary adults, families with minors, unaccompanied minors, people with physical disabilities. The aim of the Sprars is therefore not only to assist the person: food, accommodation and legal assistance and makes the integration of its residents with the host municipality a focal point of its activities.

Italy is a country made up of 8,000 municipalities, most of which are small, very small or medium sized, which today desperately struggle against depopulation and internal economic emigration, once to the north of the country, now to northern Europe. The example that the Sprar system works is Castelporto in Benevento or Riace in Calabria, jumped to the honors of glory for the arrest of its first citizen for aiding illegal immigration. Here the Sprar system has completely changed the economy and the social fabric of the city, revitalizing a small town where it was the master of the emigration of young people fleeing from the South, unemployed, depressed and with zero investment in infrastructure and services. Another case in point is that of a small town like Ventotene, which, unlike Riace, refused to join the Sprar network, with the consequent closure of the primary school due to a lack of children, where a network for minors and families could have been created. The small numbers of Sprars make possible that bilateral integration that is not achieved with the large concentrations of refugees and asylum seekers that provide for the Cas. The alarming fact is that out of 8,000 municipalities, only about 1,500 have joined the Sprar network project that the new security decree aims to abolish by increasing the presence of Cas throughout the country.

As a teacher of Italian for migrants, after the experience of the ERASMUS plus EMISEI project, what aspects do you think should be implemented in Italy?

I believe that in Italy there is a need to rethink the system of teaching the Italian language as L2 for adult refugees and asylum seekers. And we need to do this thinking about a language that is able to insert people in the economic and social fabric of our country.

Rethinking the teaching of the Italian language, that is, within the system of reception and integration that is typical of Sprar. Getting rid of the language tout court that can be good for immigrants from the EU or non-EU area who come to Italy to study at university, open businesses or invest in economic activities. For this type of user, there are university programs created by Siena, Perugia and Venice and a constellation of private language schools.

What is missing, in structural terms, is the creation of a different linguistic path, more centred on civic education, on the construction of a new Italian and European citizenship and on the learning of a language whose main objective is professional training and the recognition of informal professional skills of refugees and asylum seekers. In other words, a language system tailored to the basic needs of refugees arriving and residing in Italy: socialising, speaking the local language and working.

What is weak in Italy is a closer collaboration with the territorial employment centres, which should be more present, active and structured with the Sprars and with the language schools connected with the network of different and diversified paths, with the aim of socio-economic integration. There are categories in Italy that have suffered more than others from the economic crisis and the change in the world of work, such as craftsmen who, since the birth of the world, represent the Italian Made in Italy: I’m thinking of leatherworking, shoemakers, painters, framers or carpenters. There are jobs that are on the verge of extinction because our young people are no longer interested in starting an apprenticeship or simply because they are no longer interested in craftsmanship. There are many associations or cooperatives that have long been aware of the potential of this path of integration and that, with the Sprars, have started pilot projects. In Rome alone, there are tailoring workshops, cooking and cooking courses or catering, which are working over the long term in terms of entrepreneurship, cooperativism and work placement.

By participating in the EMISEI mobility in Brussels, one sentence struck me most and is “Make people independent”. An adult refugee or asylum seeker who resides in the Cas, by law “the time strictly necessary for his transfer to the Sprar” or Sprar, always by law, “6 months renewable only after study of the case”, to become independent must learn the Italian language, know how to seek work, access vocational training, have sufficient means to rent a house and support themselves economically once the time has expired and put out of the reception service. If the system of reception, vocational training and language school is not effective and is uncoordinated we will have lost 12 months and created dependent people. The more integrated the system is, as in Northern European countries, the more refugees and asylum seekers, once outside the 12-month reception system, are independent of moving within the system and able to live as citizens in the host country.

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