First refugees settle in at Salvation Army center in Italy

22673263769_5620e680b3_zIt was the anticipated day of arrival—the day when refugees from Africa would arrive at The Salvation Army “l’Uliveto” center in Atena Lucana, Italy, seeking asylum, seeking a new home.

A large thermos of tea and a tray covered in biscuits sat on a table. Nigerian music played. Paintings covered the walls with stories of those on a journey. The staff had been waiting for days, reviewing every procedure and establishing contacts with the local community.

The first group arrived. They came by bus from an identification center in Agrigento, Sicily, where they had been received in September to embark on a journey whose destination was unknown.

“The young people and adults seeking refuge in our center share the same sense of loss, cold and hunger—though also some hope,” said Dr. Simona Magazzù, coordinator at l’Uliveto. “One after the other, in an orderly way, they came in and had a warm drink.”

22673288139_19ba56b37e_zEach person received a hygiene kit, some basic clothes and a telephone card, a room and a name badge that listed their skills, hoping that such information would make locals aware of their abilities.

“It was moving to see people start to relax, one by one,” Magazzù said. “The terror began to disappear from their eyes and faces, replaced with laughter and jokes.”

In the morning everyone gathered again at the day center. The group worked together to build a large settee where people could sit comfortably to watch TV.

“In just a few minutes, four groups were created. One sanded the wood, another concentrated on learning their rights and duties in Italy, another—led by a member of the group who was a tailor—drew plans to create the cover of the settee, and the last group organized an area where Italian lessons would take place,” Magazzù said. “In this organized chaos, skills emerged and specific interests became evident.”

23039508916_7626aa12f3_zThe rest of the morning was taken up with health checks, conducted by a local doctor. By afternoon, the settee was completed and, to the great satisfaction of all, set in place. A member of the Carabinieri (police) visited, and the guests called home to reassure their families of their safe arrival.

“We informed our guests of the journey we would undertake together with them during this time of reciprocal respect and cooperation,” Magazzù said. “We spoke of the legal, psychological, psychiatric, linguistic and relational support they will receive from us and our desire that they build positive relationships with locals in Atena Lucana.”

Victor, also from Nigeria, visited to share his story with the asylum seekers. He arrived at l’Uliveto in 2008, and found assistance in securing a job and integrating into the community.

“The third day started with breakfast and a meeting with a legal consultant in order to prepare for the visit of the Immigration Bureau,” Magazzù said. “We will help our guests through the asylum process and provide whatever assistance they need.”

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