Empowernment through housing

What characterizes meaningful initiatives and policies for the inclusion of refugees? SIforREF developed a tool box with clear indicators to assess this question. Crucial: Policies and Practices must empower the target group to help themselves rather than creating dependencies on services provided to them. Lucà Katya is SIforREF Board Member and Delegate for Social Inclusion in the Municipality of Parma. In our latest blog post, she writes about the relevance of housing autonomy and the city's approach to empower refugees in this field.

Ms. Katya, how is refugee inclusion and the issue of housing linked for you?

Supporting the empowerment of refugees is fundamental in order to ensure their full achievement of autonomy, avoiding losing the progress achieved during the reception phase and ending up in conditions of serious marginalization. In particular, the achievement of housing autonomy is crucial, as it is a fundamental step in their integration process. The theme of the house is central in the lives of refugees, in order to find stability in current life and for the symbolic value it holds, considering that they are people forced to abandon their loved ones and their home.

Could you emphazise a bit more on this role housing autonomy is having

in the process of refugee inclusion?

The fact of having lost one's home has a shocking impact on people's ability to put back together the fragments of one’s own identity and to reconnect relational tissues. The house is above all something extremely concrete and tangible, a place anchored to recognizable and emotionally connoted spatial elements. The rooms in which we grew up, the street on which our balcony overlooked, are all images indelibly imprinted in the memory of those who have abandoned those places, and the fact that they may no longer exist in the present does nothing but relegate them with even greater intensity in an idealized past. At the same time, however, the house transcends the simple physical space, and acquires an intangible, imaginary character, which transforms it into a symbolic dimension. It is not only the concrete space inhabited by an individual or a family, but on the contrary it becomes one of the fundamental images of humanity, a place around which strong feelings are aggregated. In the home the person can experience the connection with strong identity elements, both individual and collective, and receives that sense of protection and security that will allow him to face the difficulties of life.

From the point of view of international law, various forms of protection are envisaged, such as the Convention on the Status of Refugees, which establishes that refugees must be granted the most favorable treatment possible in terms of access to homes, and in any case, a treatment no less favorable than that granted, in the same circumstances, to foreigners in general. Although the international and internal regulatory sources guarantee different forms of protection, the annual reports on Italian reception systems show that there are many obstacles in achieving housing autonomy. In 2018, for example, less than 5% of refugees welcomed in Italy benefited from an accommodation grant at the end of the reception program (SPRAR / SIPROIMI annual report. Atlante SIPROIMI 2018). Refugees, who in the vast majority of cases do not have the economic resources to buy a house, are unlikely to be able to access public housing and are therefore forced to seek accommodation in the private market, experiencing situations of strong discrimination. This contributes to increasing the risk of marginalization.

How does the municipality of Parma address the issue of housing autonomy?

In the Municipality of Parma there are various measures to support the housing inclusion of all foreign citizens, and in general of subjects in marginal conditions. Among these there are measures to stem the housing emergency, contributions for the rent, contributions for the "innocent arrears" ... But it is important to underline that, alongside the canonical measures, it is necessary to promote practices of social innovation that involve refugees and entire community, and which allow a process of growth in civil society. In Parma various best practices have been carried out in this sense: family welcome, co-housing projects between young refugees and young Italians, etc ... The interesting aspect of these innovative practices is that they not only respond to the needs expressed by both groups (eg the need for housing and social networks for refugees, the desire for autonomy from the family in young Italians), but they also allow to generate a change in the mentality of the local community.

Thank you very much, Ms. Katya.

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