In the small town of Camalò, which has a population of about 2,000 and is located near the city of Treviso in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy, Antonio Calò and his wife Nicoletta three years ago decided to host six African migrants and help them start a new life in their country. The migrants in question - Sahiou, Mohammed, Braima, Siaka, Tidja and Saeedare - are all in their twenties, which is about the same age as the Calò family's four children, who live with them. The unique experience turned into a workshop and a hosting model that this year won the European Citizen’s prize.
Euronews journalist Giorgia Orlandi visited the region and spoke to the protagonists. "These six migrants of African origins have all survived the very dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. The Calò family didn’t just provide them with a place to stay, but also with the skills and the necessary training to be able to be integrated in the society. Today, all of them have a job," she said.
A hosting model that has been dubbed 6 + 6 x 6, which stands for 6 migrants for 5,000 residents and so on, times 6, because the group of professionals who have been hired to follow the group - from a doctor to a psychologist - are able to serve a total of total of six groups of 6 migrants each. At a time when migration policies are dividing EU countries, the idea has been praised for its capacity to strengthen the dialogue between people.
"I could not think that I could live with an Italian family, we won the prize because everyone thought it was going to be impossible - instead we showed that it was going to be possible," Siaka, one of the migrants, told Euronews.
Today Mr and Mrs Calò, both teachers, live in a house that is part of the San Michele Arcangelo church in Treviso. In the first months, their project was financed through both EU and national funds that have been managed by a local NGO.
"It’s very hard for us to silence our inner consciousness; it’s both a civil and religious consciousness," said Antonio Calò. "One day on April the 18th 2015, when many migrants died at sea, we felt powerless and we heard this scream coming from inside: We have to do something," he added.
Antonio's wife, Nicoletta Ferrara, said the early days with the migrants were full of emotions. "Our first dinners were full of emotions. The boys were so happy to be welcomed by a family - by a mother and a father - they immediately started to call us this way," she said.
Despite Veneto being one of the top regions for the numbers of foreigners living in the area, with about 90,000 in Treviso, it is very hard to find facilities that welcome migrants. And usually social integration is difficult, largely due to political choices.
IMMIGRATION THE SUBJECT OF PREJUDICES
Local politician and mayor Giovanni Manildo explained that immigration-related issues are often the subject of prejudices. "Too many times immigration-related issues have been handled with prejudices. I think that the only way to manage them is for every single part to play its role. Whether it’s at a European level, a national one or at a local one, meaning municipalities regardless of their political views,” he said.
In Veneto, the Calò model has to not only faced critics from the local community, but also those who think differently, especially from within the anti-immigration Northern League party. It’s the first party there, according to the latest general election results. Recently, Treviso elected a League party mayor.
"Here we have terrible examples: crowded dormitories. Somebody uses this as a form of business. Municipalities already have their problems to take care of, we cannot ask them to deal with issues that create inequalities between citizens,” said Roberto Ciambetti, a local politician who is member of Liga Veneta–Lega Nord and President of the Regional Council of Veneto.
MIGRANTS A RESOURCE
According to Don Bruno Baratto, the director of the Migrantes project and president of the Giavera Festival, an annual event aimed at helping the dialogue between people, migrants are a resource, especially when the territory is suffering a demographic crisis.
" Here in Treviso there are about 90,000 foreign citizens. We are wondering why we don’t talk about them, but rather about the 2,000 migrants who are welcomed temporarily, waiting for their asylum requests," Don Baratto told Euronews
The European Citizen’s prize award ceremony for Italy will take place in Florence in September.