On the Forefront: Providing safety for refugees in Italy

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Bordered by Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti, the country of Eritrea lies in a geographic location where cross-border political, religious, economic and social problems have caused conflict, poverty, and extensive human rights abuses.

A former Italian colony, Eritrea is a place many want to escape – each year thousands of citizens attempt to flee persecution and ill-treatment enforced by the one-party state.

A boat of migrants arrives on the island of Lampedusa. Picture courtesy of No Borders Network, used under Flickr Creative Commons licence.

A boat of migrants arrives on the island of Lampedusa. Picture courtesy of No Borders Network, used under Flickr Creative Commons licence.

One way to flee is to reach the Libyan coast where travel to Europe is possible by sea. It is a practice that was unnoticed by many in Europe, one which only hit the headlines in October 2013 when a boat 20-metres in length, carrying 518 people, sank near the island of Lampedusa off the coast of Italy. Of the passengers in the Lampedusa tragedy, who each paid almost £1,000 to make the trip, 366 died.

It was clear in this tragedy, and many more which have followed, that there is a pressing problem in Eritrea, but also one largely unspoken of regarding the difficulty in seeking refuge overseas.

To allow refugees a safer passage into Europe, IRCT member Consiglio Italiano per i Rifugiati (CIR, Italian Council for Refugees) has launched a new campaign focusing on the concept of ‘refuge’.

The campaign examines what is meant by the term refuge and how the definition differs depending on your circumstances. To some, seeking refuge means a quiet break in the countryside, or perhaps a holiday away from daily stresses. But to the victims in the Lampedusa tragedy, refuge ultimately meant their lives.

At the core of the campaign is a 30 second video with a slideshow of the images in quick succession, ending with the photograph of the coffins from Lampedusa and the question: “Italian Refuge?”

The poster advertising the campaign

The poster advertising the campaign

The campaign aims to inform Italians about how overwhelmingly difficult it is for refugees to come to Europe without risking their lives, and the Italian Council for Refugees hopes it can also raise funds for their ongoing work with asylum seekers and refugees.

Founded in 1990 with support of UNHCR, CIR is one of the most important humanitarian organisations in Italy. CIR’s mission is to defend the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, to establish an integrated and efficient system to manage the phases of resettlement, and to highlight the human rights obligations enshrined by the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and by more recently enforced through a range of European regulations.

Since their inception, CIR has helped 100,000 persons with the challenges of resettlement, and with treatment for a range of pre-existing conditions and traumatic experiences exhibited by asylum seekers.

Part of their work is to ensure victims of torture and ill-treatment, who have often fled conflict in their homeland, are treated equally in their new society. For this to become a reality, it is of paramount importance that these asylum seekers – who are also victims of torture in some cases – are rehabilitated.

Politically independent, CIR’s activities focus on restoring dignity, regardless of the background of the individual. The only occasion where CIR’s work is politically aimed is through campaigns like this – campaigns which seek to improve the conditions for those forced to flee their home.

Watch the Youtube video promoting the campaign below and let us know what you think.

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