Italy and Nigeria recently reached an agreement to carry out joint patrols to control illegal immigration and trafficking.
The measure comes as tensions are high between Romans and immigrants following recent violence including an assault against a homeless Indian man and vigilante-style attacks on Romanians following the rape of a teenage girl.
Despite difficulties in getting to Italy and problems and strained relationships once there, four million documented migrants were said to be in the country by the end of 2007.
Lê Quyên Ngô Dình, responsible for immigration at Caritas Roma says Caritas offers a variety of services to help ease the impact on immigrants of living in Rome. These services include food, lodging, healthcare and help in looking for work.
“We give emergency help in the first few weeks,” says Ms Ngô Dình, “we also help people in the longer term, for example, if someone has entrepreneurial aspirations, we help them with proposals and give them ideas for funding and help them find contacts.”
Ms Ngô Dình says that how a person adapts to their new life in Rome can depend on their cultural level and qualifications. Caritas Roma offers Italian courses as well as help in seeking out skills training to boost migrants’ chances of integration. It also raises awareness about migration issues in schools.
“Some migrants have good qualifications that help them better absorb the shock of living abroad, but others stay in their ethnic groups and this makes it harder to learn Italian and integrate,” she says.
Women are particularly vulnerable when they migrate. Caritas Roma provides safe houses and support for women who have been victims of trafficking and prostitution. It also gives support to women who want to work but have children by providing nursery facilities and advice.
“Women who go to live and work with families can be at risk of sexual violence,” says Ms Ngô Dình. “Also, they may put up with certain behaviours and attitudes because they are scared of losing their jobs.”
In Rome, Caritas is synonymous with its soup kitchens and migrants and Italians alike have access to these if they have problems getting their lives established.
In response to global food price rises, which have sent millions of people spiralling into poverty, Caritas set up its “Emporio”.
Ms Ngô Dình says that people who are living on the edge of poverty after their buying power was slashed by the price hikes are given a token to go to the Emporium and stock up on basics such as pasta, tomatoes and oil.
“We try to support people who can’t get by on their own,” says Ms Ngô Dình. “However, even though we want to help people who are vulnerable, we don’t want to create a dependence. There has to be a sense of responsibility and empowerment.”
Caritas offers support where it can, but it would really help migrants if they got the same type of support in their home countries. In that way, migration would become more of a choice based on opportunities rather than an obligation to escape poverty and hardship.
With the current tensions in Italy, migrants find themselves facing new challenges and hardships rather than the empowerment they need to change their lives.