A week in Modena, Italy with Abused No More. 16-21 October 2017
Partners: The IARS International Institute (UK), Romanian-US Alumni Association (Romania), Stowarzysenie Interwencji Prawnej (Poland), Anziani e Non Solo (Italy), and Kisa (Cyprus)
Two weeks ago, Emily Lanham (Youth Projects Coordinator), Allison Phillips (Youth
Projects Intern), and Taiwo Afolabi (Youth Advisory Board member) travelled to Modena,
Italy on behalf of IARS to engage in a joint staff training event for the Abused No More
project. The training was hosted by the Universita di Modena e Reggio Emilia, Dipartimento
di Giruisprudenza, via S. Geminiano 3.
Day 1: 16 October:
After a smooth flight over France and Germany, Emily, Taiwo, and I checked into our hotel outside of central Modena. We headed to the university to meet with the other partners and get an overview of the week. The trainings were being put on by Anziani e Non Solo (ANS) of Italy. There were 4 partners and each sent 3 representatives to go through the trainings for the week. We set objectives and went over how each day would be structured.
The first day concluded with a series of ‘get to know you’ games amongst the 12 representatives. We shared many laughs when trying to remember everyone’s name and organizing ourselves in age order. From youngest to oldest we had a twenty-year age gap between us! Personally, I loved it (being the youngest) because there was so much experience in the room, and I could not wait to learn what everyone had to offer. We had
members from the UK, Nigeria, USA, Poland, Uzbekistan, Cyprus, Greece, Somalia, Romania, Yemen, and Italy, so everyone brought someone unique to the table. Emily, Taiwo, and myself left the room looking forward to learning how to tackle discrimination while simultaneously getting to know new people from various cultures.
Day 2: 17 October:
As a way to highlight the content of the week, we started our Tuesday by watching the documentary Fuocoammare. This Italian movie won the Berlin Film Festival in 2016, and it was clear as to why. The documentary showed the parallel worlds of a native Italian boy living his daily life versus African asylum seekers coming into Italy. In the movie, the lead boy had to go see a doctor because he was having trouble breathing and seeing out of his left eye. To the boy, this was a major problem, because he could carry out the activities in his daily life. However, this was the same doctor who saw countless deceased bodies of asylum seekers who did not make it to refuge. This shows the contrasting problems that
natives and asylum seekers face. The conditions that the asylum seekers live in while at sea are absolutely awful, and they are often not addressed. It is a struggle to survive and their health issues are severe, but are not given proper attention. The movie helped provide context and emotion behind our topic for the week. Our group had a long discussion about how the asylum seekers who do make it to Europe are the ones with money to pay for a way out. Our efforts need to be combined to help the people who are left stranded, because they do not have the funds to get out. This activity brought to light the effects of monetary and ethnic discrimination. Life comes with a price, and it is so easy for someone who does not have the funds or a high standing background to get lost in the crowd.
The second half of the day was spent walking the city looking for stereotypical Italian traits. We were told to take photo or video evidence that proved our architype correctly. Some of the stereotypes that Emily, Taiwo, and I had were: high fashion, slow paced living, lazy
police officers, high consumption of pizza/pasta, and Vespa scooters. When the big group reconvened, we realized that many of our ideas overlapped. However, stereotypes are an act of discrimination. We all assumed Italians would behave and act a certain way because of what we had heard before interacting with them. In fact, according to Licia Boccaletti, the EU Project Manager for ANS, it is very easy to generalise an entire population and put them in a box. This box is formed from our cognitive biases and the inability to see beyond what we already assume. The box that Italians are put in (high fashion, great food, relaxed lifestyle) is not necessarily a bad one, but we have to be aware of the boxes we create.
There is no way to say that “all Italians are….” because we do not know all Italians. For asylum seekers, this act of discrimination or ‘boxing’ often puts them at a disadvantage. Because of the mostly negative stereotypes that exist, it is strenuous for them to find refuge, get a job, and start a new life. It is easy to believe what the box says, but it is up to us to give everyone a fair chance to create his or her own name.
Previously, I had never given much thought to this ‘boxing’ idea, but now that I am aware of it I realize how often it occurs in my daily life. I assume characteristics or actions that people might do just based on the way I see them in my mind. However, now that I am aware of it, I
am trying my best to eliminate these ideas, because it is unfair to hinder someone from living up to their fullest potential based on preconceived notions.
Day 3: 18 October:
The morning began with a presentation of the organisation CRID– Interdepartmental Research Center on Discriminations and Vulnerabilities– at Modena University. It enlightened all of us about the plethora of resources that the students have on campus. Italy is dealing with a faster rate of asylum seekers coming across their borders than the UK, so it was fascinating to learn about what is offered for them. For example, CRID holds anti-discrimination lectures, conferences, and other events to bring awareness and help for asylum seekers and other marginalised groups. Following, we got a tour of the Department of Law by the students who had previously done ANM’s training. The university has many opportunities and resources for students who want to study Human Rights Law. It was particularly interesting for us coming from the UK, because there is not much drive to
specialise in Human Rights Law. There are companies that help promote it, but not many students choose to study it specifically. This puts us at a greater disadvantage compared to the other partners who all had numerous opportunities in their countries to get involved in Human Rights Law.
After lunch there was a guest visit from the organisation Migrabo LGBTI. They are an NGO in Modena that deals with problems with LGBTI asylum seekers. J. Mastellari of Migrabo LGBTI spoke with us about the problems that he has to face as a member of staff. He told us that many LGBTI asylum seekers face discrimination because of their sexual identity. In order to help eliminate the problem, Italy has set up specific camps for LGBTI asylum seekers. It is a great idea in theory, but it is difficult to determine who is telling the truth. Often times, people will say they belong to the LGBTI community just to get into these camps, leaving others to feel unsafe. It is hard to measure whether or not someone is telling the truth, because there is no appropriate way to prove it. LGBTI asylum seekers do not feel safe being in the normal camps since many of
their peers do not accept them. Mastellari tries to help these people escape the discrimination, but there is no set solution to the problem. They are doing their best, but the camps are getting crowded and there are not enough answers for the people who need
them. The discussion was very educational, because we did not know that separate camps existed for the LGBTI community. It is a great step forward, but there are still flaws that need to be worked out. Organizations like Migrabo LGBTI are working on making the process smoother
for LGBTI people, but they need all the awareness that they can get.
Day 4: 19 October:
Leading up to the training in Modena, we were told to do some research on Public Law Education (PLE) in the UK, and prepare a presentation. Each organization spoke about PLE in their country to the law students at an open seminar. Our presentation went as follows: Taiwo explained his research about PLE in the UK. He spoke about the toolkit provided by the legal industry to learn about one’s rights. However, no one uses it!
Following, I spoke about my observations of PLE as an outsider. PLE is important because without the knowledge of what you are entitled to, it makes it difficult to fully utilize your given rights. Emily concluded with her anecdotes about being a practicing lawyer and how she works with many people who are not aware of their rights- young people especially. There are courses that are offered, but it is not a nationally recognised problem so many people do not take advantage of them. We proposed that mandatory school trainings should be given to young people to learn their rights.
The overarching theme of everyone’s presentation was that there is not enough PLE across Europe. Many young people are not taught their rights and all of our organizations are trying to change that. Whether it is going into schools, organising workshops, or delivering trainings in local parks, IARS, KISA, Romanian-US Alumni Association, Stowarzyszenie Interwencji Prawnej, and Anziani e Non Solo are all doing their best to
educate young people on their legal rights.
The day concluded with a visit to the Antidiscrimination Service of the Municipality of Modena. We had the chance to sit down with some of their employees and discuss what sort of resources people have if they feel unsafe. It was relieving to know that there are always options for people if they feel that they are being discriminated against. The office offered counselling, workshops, and served as a safe space for people to come and relax. They also provide knowledge about PLE in Italy, and if anyone is having problems that need legal action they help them through it.
***IARS has trainings that offer free PLE for young people in the London area to take advantage of. If anyone is interested please contact us.
Day 5: 20 October:
After spending the entire week learning about antidiscrimination for asylum seekers we finally got to meet someone who had personal experience coming to Italy from Africa. G. Dell’Amico of CALEIDOS in Modena works with asylum seekers who first arrive in Italy and need a place to go. CALEIOS is a Cooperative Community that helps eliminate social marginalisation through education and establishing relationships to help asylum seekers adjust. Dell’Amico brought with him a refugee who told us his story. Originally from Mali, he escaped to Libya where he paid 700 € to get on board a boat to Italy. There were 121 people with him and they were at sea for 3 days. The conditions were harsh and not up to
liveable standards. When they finally docked, he first spent a couple months in a camp near the coast with other asylum seekers who made it. Then, he got transferred to Bologna where he was put up in a hotel for 3 months. He started to take Italian lessons, but he was unable to get his refugee papers to go through. When CALEIDOS found out about him, they brought him to Modena where he had to wait an additional 9 months before becoming a licensed refugee. Now he is working at CALEIDOS, and has been for two years. He helps asylum seekers who are coming into the country get settled and start building their new lives. He says that he helps the people who have just arrived find motivation and patience to carry on, because they see someone who was once in their place living a better life. It is easier to picture yourself succeeding when you find a role model, and that is what he is to them.
Listening to him speak was incredibly humbling and it brought to life everything we had been talking about. He proved that antidiscrimination organizations really do make an impact, but there is still a lot to be done to help. What CALEIDOS needs is awareness. They are helping very vulnerable people make a difference in not only his or her own life, but in the community as a whole. Their efforts are selfless and incredibly beneficial to the people who need them. Please feel free to look into their work and spread their message. In the afternoon we met with some Modena University Law students, and they taught us about ELSA (European Law Students Association). Their presentation tied into our ongoing
discussion about Public Legal Education for young people. The students who participate in ELSA help to promote antidiscrimination and human rights on their campuses and in the community. As stated by the name, there are branches all over European Law schools that
are trying to spread these ideas. The students were both eager both to help others, and take our suggestions of ways to incorporate Public Legal Education into their programs. I was unaware that programs like this existed, throughout law schools in the EU. I think that their
message and purpose is strong, but more self-advertisement would take them a long way and help them to reach more people. It is definitely a step in the right direction!
Day 6: 21 October:
With only a few hours together before going to the airport, we did an activity about age discrimination. We had to create a list of stereotypes that old people possess (I.e. lonely, slow, sick, dependant, etc.). Proceeding, we had to describe our own grandparents and the list completely changed (I.e. smart, motivated, giving, strong, etc.). When we looked at the lists we realized that the stereotypical old person is illustrated in a negative way compared to any of our grandparents. Additionally, we had to put on a short skit of an older lady being told by both her daughter and the bank that she could not get a new car because
of her age. They did not care about her driving record, bank statements, or medical history, only her age. Age discrimination is often neglected because there are ‘worse’ forms of discrimination that exist. However, the elderly people who deal with it on a daily basis deserve justice. The point of the activity was to bring to light that just because someone is over 70 does not mean that they should not have all the liberties that a
younger person has. It is another way to ‘box’ someone into a certain stereotype. Even though someone is older does not mean that they are not capable of executing the same tasks as a young person. There is no way to measure what all older people can and cannot do, so we have to remain open to letting them create their own opportunities based on their personal capabilities.
Finally, we did an evaluation of the whole week and said our goodbyes. The training that Emily, Taiwo, and I received this week was invaluable. Not only did we learn about antidiscrimination practices through the Abused No More project, we did it
alongside wonderful companions. Learning about all the different policies in everyone’s respective countries opened our eyes to the fact that nowhere has it perfect yet. We are all on the path to making things better not only in our countries, but in the world. Working amongst like-minded people helps emphasize how important the cause is and motivates that progress of the effects.
Thank you to everyone involved in the Abused No More group training this past week.
The experience was wonderful and we are ready to continue to fight against discrimination.