Initiated by the Italian Council for Refugees and the Badolato Municipality, this project provides decent, safe accommodation for asylum seekers through the restoration of abandoned buildings in the historic centre of the depopulated medieval town of Badolato, restoring dignity and re-unifying families separated at the moment of arrival in Southern Italy. Local residents have been employed in the restoration work and the town as a whole has benefited from increased economic activity.
Aims and Objectives
To provide decent, safe accommodation for asylum seekers through the restoration of abandoned buildings in the historic centre of the medieval town of Badolato, restoring dignity and re-unifying the families separated at the moment of arrival.
The project was initiated by the Italian Council for Refugees working together with the Municipality of Badolato in southern Italy, in response to the arrival by boat in 1997 of over 1,000 Kurdish asylum seekers, transported in inhumane conditions. There was a tremendous outpouring of solidarity and support from the residents of Badolato, a small medieval town that had once had 7,000 inhabitants but had experienced depopulation. With an ageing population of only 500, the town had been almost deserted for years and many houses were left vacant.
The community responded to this emergency situation by setting up temporary accommodation in the local school and providing food and other basic necessities for the refugee families. Most families were subsequently sent to different holding centres in other parts of the country. The mayor of Badolato called a town meeting to discuss the possibility of taking in some of the asylum seekers, and residents immediately agreed to make a number of empty properties available. The Ministry of Social Affairs provided funding for the restoration of 18 flats to accommodate asylum seekers and their families for a period of up to one year, whilst their claims are being assessed. CIR set up an office in Badolato and has provided support to the asylum seekers throughout the process, giving legal advice, assisting them in filling out forms, finding employment and learning the Italian language. Cultural understanding was established in the town through a series of religious and cultural events; many citizens ‘adopted’ asylum seekers and involved them in their family lives. Members of the local community, including some refugees, have been employed in the restoration work and the town as a whole has benefited from the increased tourism and economic activity that has resulted from the wide coverage of the project.
There are currently 60 asylum seekers and refugees living in Badolato, of which 28 are living in the restored apartments and the remaining 32 have settled permanently in the community. The project is managed by the Municipality, with the support of CIR, through funds from the National Protection System for Refugees and Asylum Seekers. Fifteen homes have been completed to date and a further three will be ready in the near future.
The Municipality of Badolato, through a fund of €775,000 (US$937,000) from the Ministry of Social Affairs, purchased 18 houses to be restored for the refugee families. Of this, €155,000 (US$187,000) was used to buy the properties and €620,000 (US$750,000) funded the restoration work and the purchase of basic subsistence needs.
The local community has been involved throughout the process, from providing initial assistance to the refugee families to being involved in cultural activities and playing a fundamental role in the social integration of the families. Many current and former residents have assisted in the project by offering their abandoned properties for restoration at a low cost and some local residents and construction firms have been employed to carry out the restoration work.
The project has had a significant impact on the lives of the asylum seekers and the residents of Badolato – economically, as well as culturally and socially. The project addresses the housing needs of very vulnerable families and has greatly improved their quality of life. The project discourages dependency and has provided needed support to asylum seekers and their families whilst allowing and encouraging them to become self-sufficient.
The project has had a strong social, physical and economic impact on the town as a whole. The project has had a number of positive side-effects, extending beyond the targeted group and leading to the economic development of the area and the return of local Italians who had been forced to leave due to the economic depression in the region.
The project began in 1997 – with the arrival of the first Kurdish asylum seekers – and is on-going. Restoration work began in 1999 and to date, 15 of the 18 units have been completed and are now occupied.
Why is it innovative?
- Creation of an alternative form of housing for asylum seekers that offers greater stability, social integration and support and allows families to stay together in decent, safe accommodation whilst their asylum claims are being assessed.
- Restoration of abandoned properties in a depopulated area to provide homes for asylum seekers.
- Cooperation between the local authority and the Italian Council for Refugees.
- Creation of an institutionalised system for reception of asylum seekers.
- Involvement of the local population of a small town in assimilating small numbers of refugees (rather than large centres).
What is the environmental impact?
The project makes use of existing physical assets, recycling and restoring abandoned buildings into housing for refugee families. Materials were locally sourced and special criteria were used so as to preserve the original structures of the buildings.
The project has preserved the traditional wood fired central heating system in all of the homes. Other abandoned properties in the town are now being recycled and restored as part of a Municipal initiative to regenerate the area, attract tourism and develop the local economy. Some families from Badolato who migrated to Northern Europe have begun to restore their own abandoned properties in the town for use as summer homes.
Is it financially sustainable?
The National Asylum Programme/National Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees has recently been granted long-term funding by recent legislation on asylum. Badolato is also taking steps to improve its local economy and offer greater long-term income generating opportunities for its residents, including refugees and asylum seekers.
The Municipality has promoted a number of initiatives to provide employment opportunities to asylum seekers and local residents, including a multi-ethnic restaurant and a shop selling handmade ceramics. Some residents of Badolato and the surrounding areas, including refugees, have been employed in the construction and restoration work. Asylum seekers have also found work in the fields of agriculture, construction and tourism. A Kurdish family (with seven members) runs a food shop in Badolato Marina, where they sell both Italian and Turkish/Kurdish products. The local government initiative to restore additional buildings and attract tourism to the area has begun to generate new jobs for local people.
Before the project, refugee families and asylum seekers did not have access to safe, affordable family housing. The project provides secure, decent accommodation to asylum seekers whilst they wait for their claims to be assessed. The restored houses are owned by the Municipality and cannot be used for any other purpose than to house asylum seekers.
There is not a lack of affordable housing in the area; the main problem facing the inhabitants of the region is the lack of permanent employment opportunities in the formal sector. The project has worked to generate employment and income opportunities for residents and asylum seekers and to attract tourism in the region. Thirty-two refugees have chosen to settle permanently in Badolato and have continued to receive support from CIR: an example is a family of Congolese asylum seekers that has recently been granted refugee status and would like to stay in Badolato, which they now consider their home and where they have found employment. CIR has provided support to help them find affordable rental accommodation in the town.
What is the social impact?
Greater community cooperation and integration is one of the key objectives – and achievements – of the project. The project began with the tremendous outpouring of solidarity of Badolato residents toward the Kurdish asylum seekers in 1997 and the successful process of social integration has had an impact on residents, the asylum seekers, and the community as a whole.
Through this project asylum seekers have the opportunity to study Italian in evening courses and some have had the opportunity to take part in training courses as part of the ‘Asylum Island’ project. Regional funding has recently been provided to offer training and work placement opportunities for a small number of asylum seekers. Kurdish, Ethiopian and Eritrean children under humanitarian protection attend the town school.
The project has worked to reduce vulnerability and has provided safe housing for asylum seekers, where families can remain together and have access to healthcare through the Italian health system.
CIR works to remove the stigma associated with refugees and asylum seekers and provide support in finding employment and education. There has been wider acceptance of refugee and immigrant families by employers in the area. In contrast with the typical living conditions of asylum seekers, this project has provided a much greater degree of stability for families as well as the opportunity to study the Italian language. This environment has led to higher levels of self-confidence and greater participation in community life.
With the lack of employment opportunities in the area, many of the asylum seekers, particularly the young, single men – as with the majority of Badolato residents before them – have left the town once refugee status has been granted, migrating to the north of Italy or to countries in Northern Europe to find permanent work. To address this issue, which affects the whole region, the Municipal government has begun to restore other abandoned medieval buildings in the town, seeking to provide affordable rental accommodation, increase tourism to the area, stimulate the local economy and generate employment opportunities for local people. Some of the refugee families have chosen to settle permanently in Badolato and the visibility of the project has attracted many visitors to the area – visitors from Germany, Switzerland and other parts of Italy have bought properties in the town – and this has offered greater opportunities for income generation during the tourist season.
The project suffered delays and extended waiting periods due to bureaucracy and stalls in the funding process. This led to a number of asylum seekers having to leave Badolato and be housed elsewhere. CIR did not give up, however, and the restoration work has now been completed on 15 units, with the remaining three to be completed in the near future.
Italy is one of the few countries in Europe that does not have a specific law regarding political asylum. CIR has long advocated for asylum legislation and as a result of the work of CIR and others, the National Asylum Programme was created in 2001.
The success of this model is due in great part to the dedication and professionalism of the team from the Italian Council for Refugees, which still today maintains a key role and functions as a point of reference for refugees, asylum seekers and other organisations working with similar issues in the region of Calabria.
This approach provides support and gives more stability to highly vulnerable individuals and families, resulting in greater opportunities for integration and contribution to the wider community.
The restoration of abandoned properties can lead to wider regeneration and stimulate economic development.
The integration of refugees is a crucial issue that all cities in Europe are currently facing and there is potential for transfer of the approach both nationally and internationally. CIR is looking to promote this approach in other places in the Mediterranean region, restoring historical towns that have been abandoned over the years and contributing toward achieving a solution to the emergency housing situation faced by refugees throughout the Mediterranean region.
An evaluation of the project has recently been carried out by Architects Without Borders who recommend it as an innovative example of best practice in social integration and the provision of housing for refugees and asylum seekers. The project has also been evaluated by the ‘Asylumisland’ Project, a coalition of governmental and non-governmental organisations working with asylum seekers and refugees and by the DG V Berliner Institut für Vergleichende Sozialforschung, Berlin, in its Evaluation Report to the European Commission: ‘Measures to Assist Refugees within the European Union’.
Before the experience in Badolato, there was not any institutionalised reception system for asylum seekers in Italy. The Badolato experience was used as a model in the development of the National Asylum Programme in 2001, now called the National Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees, which has taken the approach of using small and medium size towns for reception centres.
The CIR offices in Badolato continue to receive and assist an average of 100 asylum seekers per year within the framework of the Institutional Reception Programme (National Protection System for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) launched by the Italian Ministry of Interior in cooperation with UNHCR and the Association of Italian Municipalities (ANCI).
The approach has been transferred to the nearby town of Riace by Italian NGO Città Futura, where abandoned buildings are being restored to provide accommodation for asylum seekers. Some elements of the experience have also been taken up in the town of Isola Capo Rizzuto. In both cases, CIR has been in contact with the implementing organisations, sharing knowledge and providing support. Badolato, Riace and Isola Capo Rizzuto are all currently included in, and funded by, the National Asylum Programme.
Community-to-community exchange activities have taken place among asylum seekers from different towns in the local area, with the support of CIR and a range of partners involved in the ‘Asylumisland’ integration project for refugees and asylum seekers.
The Badolato experience has been presented nationally and within European refugee networks as an example of good practice in housing and integration of asylum seekers and refugees.
Local Authority, NGO, Local Community