The Ford Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity was among several institutions at the University of Notre Dame that co-sponsored a recent workshop in Rome for researchers, refugees, and others involved in an ongoing resettlement project in Italy. 

The Humanitarian Corridor initiative assesses the effectiveness of a program that provides a small number of refugees with safe travel from Africa to Italy, along with visas, housing and resettlement assistance. The Ford Program, Caritas Italy and the Community of Sant’Egidio are partnering in the project, which monitors the attitudes of both refugees and their Italian host communities. 

The May 19-20 conference, held at the University of Notre Dame Rome Global Gateway and cosponsored by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies and the Center for Social Concerns, gave researchers the chance to present their preliminary findings. 

It also gave stakeholders in the project – refugees, volunteers, and social workers – a rare opportunity to share their experiences and challenges in an academic setting.

“It wasn’t just scholars talking about papers. We wanted them to be able to raise their voices,” said Ford Family Research Assistant Professor, Ilaria Schnyder von Wartensee. “The University provided a unique space to have this dialogue.”  

The 30 participants included Eritrean and Somali refugees, Notre Dame faculty and researchers, officials from the Swiss and Canadian embassies in Italy, and representatives from Caritas Italy, Sant’Edgidio, Ghandi Charity, the Vatican Dicastery for Migration and Refugees, and the Vatican Secretary of State. 

Schnyder said refugees described common difficulties that often stemmed from the inability to learn Italian as quickly as they expected, such as not being able to find work and – particularly in small towns – feelings of loneliness. Many debated leaving Italy in hopes of finding more opportunities elsewhere. 

Schnyder said researchers built trust with refugees by accompanying them throughout the Humanitarian Corridor process. That trust has encouraged them to speak candidly about their experiences. 

“I met them in Ethiopia before their departure. I traveled with them to Italy,” she said. “It’s like this has been a journey that we are doing together.”

“Now,” she added, “we are giving participants a safe environment to have these discussions and exchange their ideas, and at the same time helping organizations to improve the project.”  

Clemens Sedmak, acting director of the Ford Program for the spring of 2019 and a professor of social ethics in the Keough School of Global Affairs, spoke on the importance of understanding the contexts of Corridor communities. 

“Separate artificial communities for integration will always be secondary to natural communities and the social mechanisms within them,” he said. 

Francesco Tassi ’18, an International Development Studies minor, and Ford research assistant Benedetta Panchetti also attended the conference.