Migrants, and their need for integration, have been in the heart of the Community of Sant’Egidio since the 70s, when they have started to be a significant component of the Italian society.
It was 22nd May 1979, when some people, unidentified, burned a Somali refugee alive. He was named Ali Jama and was sleeping in the porch of a church, near piazza Navona, in Rome. His tragic death was a call to reflect upon the presence of immigrants in Italy.
The Community organized a vigil in the city and asked to Pope John Paul II, in office only for a few months, to remember in his prayer that man, stranger to our country. The Pope addressed our request and on 27 May, in the Angelus, commemorated Ali and prayed for all migrants.
Since then, we have met many migrants, coming from all corners of the world. Today, many of these men and women have completed their journey and have become “new Italians” and “new Europeans”. A good number of them have obtained citizenship and live, work and look forward to their future in this country, where they arrived years ago and still reside with their family. The same story is happening in other European countries, where the Community is present.
We start by welcoming those who knock to our doors escaping from their country. At the same time, we immediately offer them a pathway which starts from learning our language. Opened in 1982 and now attended by thousands of students, in Italy as well as in other European countries, the Schools of Language and Culture are the channel to promote the understanding of and active engagement with the society of the country where migrants have arrived. The movement Peace People, made of people from all over the World, creates a network that protects and prevents from division and individualism. Gatherings, meetings, conferences, also in the school, foster social inclusion by creating the occasion for encounters between foreigners and local citizens. The commitment to fight any expression of racism and exclusion and to promote the encounter between cultures that are different, but meant to coexist and have a dialogue, is a priority.
After the shipwreck in Lampedusa, and the recurrent tragedies in our sea, where thousands of people lose their life in the hope of landing somewhere better –along with the words of Pope Francis (“welcome, protect, promote, integrate”) – the Community of Sant’Egidio has started, in February 2016, the Humanitarian Corridors together with the Italian Protestant Churches. By the end of 2017, more than one thousand Syrian refugees have arrived escaping from Lebanon, as part of this project which is self-funded. This model of receiving and integrating refugees has been exported in France and Belgium, and is seen as an example in Europe.
Many other initiatives have been developed and promoted by the Community to support integration. Integration and peace-building are among the biggest challenges to live in the global world.