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Matteo Fracassi interviews Ilda Curti, Turin’s integration commissioner
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 8 (IPS) – As the Italian government cracks down ever harder on new waves of migrants, the city of Turin has taken a different approach, reaching out to immigrant communities and embracing a philosophy of economic, social and cultural integration.
”After more than 20 years of immigration flows, Turin is now a multicultural city,” declares Dr. Ilda Curti, Turin’s commissioner for integration policies.
She notes that 17 percent of Turin’s population is composed of legal non-Italian migrants – about 150,000 out of a total population of 910,000.
The city’s inclusive approach has drawn praise from U.N. agencies like the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNSECO), whose New York director, Hèlène-Marie Gosselin, told IPS Turin offers an ”outstanding example” of a successful migration policy.
The stance of local officials is starkly at odds with the prevailing political winds. In August, the Italian Parliament passed a new ”security law” that formally made clandestine status a crime, punishable by fines of up to 10,000 euro and six months detention. The law also allows the government to intercept boats at sea and forcibly return migrants to their point of departure.
In an interview with IPS, Curti explained that migration is not a new phenomenon in Turin. ”The issue of migrants from all over Europe to Italy started around the 1970s, and became a policy issue during the next decade,” she said.
”During the 1990s, the crisis of [the Turin-based automaker] Fiat and rising urban crime put non-Italian migrants in Turin in a bad light, so it was vital for the city to find the right way to engage them,” Curti said.
IPS correspondent Matteo Fracassi spoke with Curti following her participation in a recent seminar, ”The Inter-ethnic City: Management and Policies for a Better Integration of Migrants”, organised by the Italian and Canadian Permanent Missions at the United Nations in New York.
Excerpts from the interview follow.
IPS: How did Turin û certainly not Italy’s biggest or best known city û became an example for successful immigration policies?
ILDA CURTI: For Turin, dealing with migration was a bit easier since its experience with the internal migrants in the late 1950s and early ’60s, when 700,000 people from the south and the east of Italy moved to Turin to work for Fiat, Italy’s biggest company at the time, making it a ”one-company city”.
IPS: Which strategies in terms of policy did the City Hall take?
IC: Instead of short-term solutions, the local government decided to develop new policies, adopting a community development approach. The main task of the local government is still the empowerment of people, communities and local actors.
IPS: What is the largest non-Italian community in Turin right now?
IC: The largest community of immigrants in Turin is Romanian, with almost 42,000 people in the city and about 32,000 in the surrounding area. It’s no secret that Romanians are the largest community of non-Italians in our country, with more than 625,000 people – their presence has doubled in the last two years. We even published Italian-Romanian dictionaries which were distributed for free to the families of our city.
IPS: What about the so-called ”second-generation” immigrants?
IC: Actually, I don’t like calling them ”second generation” immigrants” as all the sociologists do. I prefer calling them the ”new generation” immigrants. We have about 30,000 people that are the children of immigrants, born in Italy.
For example, more than 3,000 children were born in Turin to Romanian parents in 2007 alone. Children and young people are attending our schools, are playing soccer with Italians, but have a non-Italian cultural background, and we have to pay attention to it.
One of our most successful projects was actually realised thinking about the ”new generation”. In Italy you have to be an Italian citizen to get the chance to do social service, but we in Turin decided to give this opportunity to non-Italians (age 18-25) who are unemployed and willing to spend some quality time dealing with social and civic important issues and activities.
It turned out to be an extraordinary opportunity for them to bond with their Italian fellows and even to earn a little money in exchange.
IPS: Since the crisis at Fiat, including layoffs and significant losses, do you think it will be harder for migrants to find work and survive in a tougher economic climate?
IC: According to our statistics, at this moment we have about 50,000 non-Italian people who invest money and pay high taxes in Turin. The majority of them – 72 percent – are employed in the construction trade. Others are working in commerce (six percent) and in factories (six percent). All of them have different social and cultural needs and are asking to be considered as a resource of the city.
Turin is a modern city that supports the idea of a common responsibility, adopting a ”people to people” approach instead of a [more bureaucratic] ”paper to people” one.
IPS: One of your projects is regarded as a particular success: ”The Gate û Living not Leaving”. Can you talk about it?
IC: In 1996, the City Hall presented it to the European Union [for funding]. Its goal was to improve the living and working conditions in the Porta Palazzo neighbourhood, which was a really challenging reality in terms of coexistence between Italians and immigrants. Later it became a committee.
Launched In 1998, the Porta Palazzo Project Committee is a non-profit composed of public institutions and private entities. It was financed by the EU, the Turin City Hall and by the Ministry of Public Works [with a budget of nine million dollars]. Its goal is to promote economic, social and cultural development.
It later became an agency for local development, and is still running under my leadership. It has received 174 million dollars over the last 10 years from the private and public sector, and became an example of sustainable immigration policy.
We actually managed to transform a troubled neighbourhood, where different generations of immigrants were fighting with each other and with Italians, into a social and cultural hotspot for the city where people of different cultural heritages could coexist.
All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service, 2009.
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