Thanks to the Clare Marie Rogers Matthews Memorial Award, I was able to conduct interviews with NGO’s in Rome, Italy and Munich, Germany to study the refugee crisis that is currently affecting Europe. More specifically, I was able to carry out a comparative study that explores how Italy, a receiving country, and Germany, a destination country, have responded to pressures of heightened levels of refugee immigration.
As a receiving country, Italy has served as one of the main points of entry for migrants and refugees due to its proximity to the Mediterranean basin. European Union law stipulates that asylum seekers must remain in the first European country they enter to be registered as an asylum seeker. In effect, that country is solely responsible for examining migrants' asylum applications, which means the burden of responsibility falls disproportionately on entry-point states with exposed borders. In addition, destination countries are equally affected by the refugee crisis. According to the UN Refugee Agency, Germany continues to be the recipient of the largest number of asylum applications as the most popular destination country in Europe.
Given that information, I yearned to better understand the more nuanced demands governments and NGO’s in both countries face and how they are responding to the large influxes of refugees. In addition, I wanted to better comprehend the circumstances refugees face throughout the migration and resettlement process.
In Rome, Italy, I interviewed Project Rome, an organization dedicated to alleviating the strife of marginalized communities, especially refugee communities. The organization noted that at the government level, Prime Minister Renzi has been supportive of the plight of refugees. In 2015, he was a lone voice appealing to other EU nations to accept refugees, while France and Austria, for example, reinforced their borders and refused to allow refugees to cross from Italy. I also learned that in the spring and summer months, the Italian navy has been rescuing up to 20 ships every night.
In addition, the organization noted that a vast majority of refugees entering Italy are mostly passing through; they have paperwork and an onward destination. Those who stay over a longer period of time are supported mostly by charities and churches who handle the influx and organize accommodations. While waiting for permission to stay, refugees reside in tent communities in Rome or EU funded centers and government buildings outside of Rome and often face a long wait to restart their lives. During that time, some organizations may provide basic human needs that refugees often lack, including clothing, food, and language lessons. Finally, the organization noted that overall, hostility as well as lack of Italian language ability, acceptance and integration into society are some of the gravest challenges refugees face as they resettle in Rome.
In Munich, Germany, I interviewed MigraMed, an organization focused on improving direct patient-doctor relations by organizing medical student volunteers who accompany the interpreter and the patient to the doctor. Before and after the visit, the volunteers explain the process, diagnosis, medication, and further proceedings, which the doctors often don't have enough time to do slowly and patiently if the patient doesn't speak German well. Afterwards, they give feedback to the social worker to ensure that the next appointment is scheduled.
MigraMed noted that in Germany, one particular challenge is that asylum applications don't get processed in a timely manner. On average, refugees utilizing MigraMed’s services had to spend 18 months or more in group homes waiting for their application to get either accepted or denied. During that period, they are not allowed to work or take language classes, which is a source of frustration because employment and integration are among the refugee’s greatest needs. Furthermore, refugees have little to no privacy and face overcrowded conditions in group homes and more broadly, have difficulty finding stable living conditions. In addition, refugees often have difficulty uniting their family because Germany has made it difficult to bring family here after one individual has arrived.
Luckily, Munich’s social democratic government is more welcoming and friendly towards immigrants. According to MigraMed, Munich city officials are very supportive of the organization’s mission and recently offered to support MigraMed financially and structurally.
Overall, this experience was incredibly rewarding. This grant allowed me to gain invaluable insight into this migration crisis, how both countries have coped with this influx of refugees and migrants, and the ways in which NGO’s have worked to provide opportunities to those fleeing dangerous living situations. In addition, visiting both Rome and Munich allowed me to observe the culture and conditions that refugees face upon arrival. I would like to extend my gratitude to Ms. Natalie Ammarell for making this experience possible and for enabling students to explore the world.