Academic journal article Human Organization

The Effect of Second Reception Center Practices on Refugee Experiences in Sicily

Academic journal article Human Organization

The Effect of Second Reception Center Practices on Refugee Experiences in Sicily

Article excerpt

Introduction

All those refugees, something happened in the past, because if something never happened to you, you don t come here. You never put your life in the dangerous sea if you don t have a reason. Because this sea, it is 50/50 because you can die, or you can survive. But one thing I want to tell you is that we need help. We are tired. Life is not easy, we are suffering.1

- Interview with Elijah, June 2016

Elijah is one of thousands of refugees2 who fled their homes and crossed the Mediterranean Sea for Italy. The number of refugees and migrants like Elijah flee-ing Africa and the Middle East due to the escalation of conflict in these regions has increased dramatically in recent years, with thousands arriving in Italy by sea every month. In 2015, over one million arrived in Europe by boat, and over 3,700 drowned at sea (UNHCR 2015). In 2016, 161,338 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe by sea, and 116,622 arrived in Italy alone (UNHCR 2017).

The Italian Coast Guard rescues thousands from unsea-worthy boats annually (TORRE 2014b), most of which end up (Figure 1) abandoned in so-called boat graveyards along Italy's coast. Refugees then typically go to first reception centers, where they receive medical care, clothing, and food. Once the Italian government grants refugees the opportunity to request asylum, they are sent to small second reception centers operated by local NGOs. However, these NGOs are largely unregulated by the state, and little is known about the challenges migrants and refugees face after their placement in these centers. This article examines the experiences of refugees, particularly unaccompanied minors, living at six second reception centers in Siracusa, Italy. We specifically examine how local NGOs operate these centers and how their practices shape refugees' experiences. As we will demonstrate in this article, refugee aid is simultaneously a business that commodifies refugee needs and a form of practice that provides a varied and intertwined quality of services; here, we consider these two dimensions of refugee aid together. Thus, this study highlights a case of "good aid" against the backdrop of an often commodified approach to managing refugees. These practices and experiences are contextualized within larger policies that influence organizations' approaches to managing aid to refugees. We argue that the humanitarian aid system for refugees in Siracusa is not only complicated but contradictory; while informal NGO practices often sidestep guidelines for national and international refugee policy, and prevalent inefficiencies, shortages, and corruption adversely affect refugees, "good aid" is possible at these centers. This is evident in the analysis of the La Vita e Bella center for unaccompanied minors, where refugees' needs drive how aid, both material and social support, is structured and distributed, thereby facilitating refugees' integration into Italian society. This research with unaccompanied minors at La Vita e Bella is significant because it provides a positive example of humanitarian aid for refugees and serves as a potentially useful model organization for other reception centers for unaccompanied minor refugees in Europe. Furthermore, understanding unaccompanied minors' experiences is likewise important because this population constitutes an extraordinarily vulnerable group in that the refugee youth lack social support, life experience, and job skills; therefore, they are especially prone to exploitation and neglect. Since many aid centers, particularly those for migrant youth, do not meet refugees' needs, the analysis of La Vita e Bella provides a positive framework for effective distribution of humanitarian aid to unaccompanied minors in Europe.

Identifying as a Refugee

When analyzing refugee experiences in Siracusa, it is useful to first consider the terminology used to identify this group because many individuals arriving in Sicily are not considered refugees by international law. …

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