Italy has long been a landing point for migrants and refugees, and in 2015 more than 153,000 people arrived by sea, mainly from countries such as Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and Syria.
The main ports of landing were Augusta, Pozzallo, Palermo, Reggio Calabria and Lampedusa. The reception system in Italy suffers from serious shortcomings as a result of the lack of political will to manage new arrivals. Access to humanitarian assistance and international protection for those in need is in no way guaranteed.
In 2015, MSF supported the Ragusa Provincial Health Agency with the medical screening of new arrivals and a 24-hour medical service, and worked inside Pozzallo’s first reception centre providing medical care. More than 3,000 consultations had been carried out by year’s end. Many patients presented with skin diseases (often a result of poor living conditions in Libya), respiratory tract infections, suspected tuberculosis (TB) and trauma.
MSF also launched a programme focusing on mental healthcare in 16 reception centres in Sicily’s Ragusa province, temporary home to 400 refugees and migrants. A team of two psychologists and several cultural mediators screened all new arrivals for psychological vulnerabilities and provided care to those in need. The team carried out 1,052 individual mental health consultations and organised 69 group sessions for 549 people. Most of the patients were from Nigeria, the Gambia, Senegal, Mali and Bangladesh and 41 per cent had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, while others were suffering from psychological distress or depression.
Throughout 2015, MSF undertook bilateral meetings and public advocacy efforts to call for change in the Italian reception system. A report was submitted to the Italian Parliament in November detailing problems at the primary reception centre in Pozzallo, such as overcrowding and poor hygiene conditions, and making recommendations for improvements. No changes were made and at the end of the year MSF made the difficult decision to cease activities in the centre.
Psychological first aid
As the migrants and refugees had had arduous and often traumatic journeys, MSF began offering psychological first aid to those in urgent need of support upon arrival in Sicily. From May, a team made up of cultural mediators and a psychologist were on standby to deploy to different landing ports in Italy within 72 hours of receiving an alert. They responded 14 times in eight Italian ports, assisting 2,500 people.
In Rome, an MSF team also provided psychological first aid to migrants and refugees staying in a transit centre managed by civil society activists. Most of these people left for northern Europe a few days after their arrival. Between 16 July and 1 November, teams provided information to 6,540 people, mental health support to 903 people through individual or group sessions, and completed 79 individual psychological consultations.
In Rome, MSF launched a project in October working with asylum seekers who have been the victims of torture, in collaboration with Medici Contro la Tortura. In total, there were more than 340 consultations. The centre offers medical, psychological and socio-legal assistance to any migrant, refugee or asylum seeker who has been tortured or subjected to targeted violence, regardless of their place of origin or legal status.
Shelter and medical care in Gorizia
Towards the end of the year in the northern city of Gorizia, on the border with Slovenia, a team provided medical care, shelter and assistance to hundreds of refugees who had been sleeping outdoors next to a river. In December, MSF opened a temporary centre there, made from 25 converted shipping containers, with a capacity of 96. The team worked in collaboration with the local health service and the Red Cross, and distributed relief items such as hygiene kits. The people in Gorizia were mainly Pakistanis and Afghans, who had entered Italy after a long journey across the Balkans. In the first three weeks of the project, more than 200 people were given temporary shelter.
No. staff in 2015: 28 | Expenditure: €8.5 million | Year MSF first worked in the country: 1999 | msf.org/italy