Morus Association: a grassroots approach to refugee integration
A community-led initiative with multi-stakeholder support to facilitate the integration of refugees outside Turin in the Lanzo Valleys.
Morus is a voluntary association that focuses on migrant inclusion. The association supports a small number of refugees in the Valli di Lanzo region, northwest of Turin. The association works with those individuals who have been granted refugee status in Italy in order to help them find housing and employment in the region’s rural towns and villages. To achieve this, volunteer workers map the individual needs and competencies of refugees with a view to matching individuals with appropriate opportunities in the area. In addition, this process helps identify cultural and sporting activities that can help build relationships between new arrivals, longstanding residents and local authorities. To date, the Morus association has supported a range of inter-cultural projects such as the fashion initiative- MoroStyle; a community choir - CoroMoro; and a football team - MoroTeam.
This case study was developed in the framework of the Mediterranean City-to-City Migration Project (MC2CM), a project coordinated by ICMPD and funded by the European Union and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The MC2CM project has been working since 2015 with Amman, Beirut, Lisbon, Lyon, Madrid, Tangiers, Tunis, Turin and Vienna to increase the knowledge base on urban migration. Additionally the project has sought to nurture a peer-to-peer dialogue and mutual learning on specific urban challenges such as social cohesion, intercultural dialogue, employment and provision of basic services for migrants, among others. This case study was selected by the Municipality of Madrid in order to showcase a practice that contributes to social inclusion of migrants at the local level.
This case study was contributed from the UCLG Learning Team (email@example.com).
Background and objectives
The Metropolitan city of Turin adopts a decentralised approach to migrants integration. Approximately 10,000 refugees are hosted in decentralised locations throughout the Piedmont region of Italy. This represents a conscious strategy designed to direct migrants and refugees into mountainous areas in order to repopulate declining communities and reduce pressures on inner-city / suburban neighbourhoods. Responding to this decentralised approach, the Morus Association, located in the valleys north-west of Turin, was established in March 2016. It is a civil society initiative, designed to support the coordination of various integration activities offered by local volunteers for those refugees who have been resettled to the Valli di Lanzo area since 2014.
The association emerged in 2014 after two Turin-based cooperatives (Babel and Liberi Tutti) agreed to host groups of 18 and 42 refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa in the villages of Ceres and Pessinetto respectively. Neighbouring villages within the Valli di Lanzo region, Ceres and Pessinetto are located approximately 50km from Turin.
Responding to the settlement of refugees in the area, several local community members approached the new arrivals with offers of clothing as well as Italian conversation classes. As the local volunteer network grew, bi-weekly co-ordination meetings were held in Pessinetto, drawing in civil society actors from other host municipalities in the region, such as Balangero, Coassolo and Lanzo. These meetings provided a platform to share volunteer challenges and practice and also promote collaboration with cooperatives managing refugees hosting programmes such as Babel and Liberi Tutti.
Between 2014 and 2016, the network organised the following activities:
- Local internship and apprenticeship opportunities for refugees with enterprises offering on-the-job training;
- Italian language classes;
- Local meet-up opportunities for refugees and the settled community;
- Support for decentralised hosting within the homes of local residents.
As activities in the region increased over this period, a decision was taken to establish an association in order to better manage on-going activities. The Morus Association has since provided a useful launch-pad for projects such as CoroMoro, MoroTeam, and MoroStyle.
The Morus Assocation’s human rights based approach is achieved in the first instance, through the provision of additional housing opportunities for refugees that go beyond the initial hosting offered by local cooperatives. Morus volunteers work with recent-arrivals to build a profile that maps their needs, skills and aspirations. This approach is not only essential to identifying suitable housing / hosting opportunities in the area, it also enables the association to support refugees in finding appropriate employment opportunities.
In addition to mapping migrant housing needs, Morus has also established strong connections with local estate agents to identify available housing options. The association also provides interest-free deposit loans/guarantees in order to address a key barrier excluding refugees from accessing private-sector rental opportunities.
Morus volunteers also focus on supporting access to gainful employment for refugees. Here again, the initial migrant profile is crucial to matching the skills of new arrivals with demand-led opportunities in the local labour market. So far, five refugees have been placed within local businesses in the valleys, whilst others can benefit from a retraining programme designed to help refugees gain future employment in the currently understaffed social-care sector.
Another dimension of Morus’ work, is the promotion of inter-cultural activities that help build cohesive relationships between settled and migrant population alike.
Three examples are:
- CoroMoro: A choir project that connects West African refugees with local residents in Ceres as a way of promoting intercultural exchange and facilitating the acquisition of Italian language skills. The choir’s repertoire (some of which can be heard here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQsqAOhwH3mxKiX5V2iaSvg/videos) combines music from both the local Piedmont and West African Mandinka traditions. The choir has been invited to perform at a range of events across Italy. In January 2016, for example, Turin Municipality invited CoroMoro to perform at their “Un Natale coi Fiocchi” concert in Piazza Castello. More recently, having collaborated on a music video for MAU MAU, a well-known Turin based band, CoroMoro have been touring with the band.
- MoroTeam: A football team for refugees set up in June 2015 with support from a group of volunteers living in the village of Ceres. Originally established to compete in local football tournaments, the team have since competed in regional and national competitions. This initiative promotes the active and equal participation of refugees in Italian social life.
- MoroStyle: A fashion enterprise initiated by five refugee tailors and focussed on producing African inspired clothing. Emerging as a unique brand and style in the region, MoroStyle regularly exhibit their clothing designs during summer cultural and tourism events. Since March 2017, MoroStyle has secured a regular sales pitch at the Turin’s Gran Balun open air market through a formal agreement with the Balun Traders Association.
In addition to supporting migrant opportunities in the areas of housing, employment and cultural life, Morus Association also provides an element of “civic education” for new arrivals. At present, Morus volunteers are drafting a handbook to introduce arrivals to both their rights and duties. The editorial team comprises authors from both host and migrant communities and the handbook will be translated into French and English and disseminated throughout the valleys.
Financing and resources
Morus activities are self-financed and, to date, have not received any financial contributions from local authorities. This said, some in-kind support from local authorities has been mobilised, such as the inclusion of CoroMoro in events organised by Turin Municipality. In 2016 the various Morus activities (especially CoroMoro) and sponsorships generated revenue totalling €48,000. These resources were used to cover operational expenditures and finance Morus initiatives.
Since 2016, Morus has been exploring the possibility of establishing partnerships through responding to international and local funding calls to support the association’s on-going activities. Morus is also exploring the idea of generating income by starting a restaurant and catering service (RistoMoro) for African and Piedmont cuisine. This initiative could also be coupled with food production activities carried out by refugees.
Results and impacts
To date, no formal evaluation of Morus Association projects has taken place. However, a number of Morus activities were quoted in a 2015 report to the Italian Parliament addressing Mountain Development. Within this report, prepared by the Intergruppo Parlamentare per lo Sviluppo della Montagna (Parliamentary Mixed Group for Mountain Development), CoroMoro and MoroTeam received positive acknowledgment as having contributed to the integration of refugees in a local context.
Beyond cultural recognition, Morus activities appear to have a positive impact on the ability of refugees to access employment opportunities:
- The traineeship sponsored by the Piedmont regional authority named “borsa lavoro” was instrumental in offering refugees professional placement. In collaboration with the Babel and Liberi Tutti cooperatives, Morus monitored 15 of such placements in local enterprises.
- The Morus association also participates in the Senza Asilo network. This civil society-led network is jointly run by citizens, social workers and organisations working with refugees. In total, it co-ordinates about 100 enterprises. The network succeeded in convincing two Turin local authorities – Prefettura and Questura – to increase local labour market flexibility in order to facilitate the integration of refugees labourers.
- Morus facilitated the hiring of two refugees to support pupils learning English and French at the local Valli di Ceres secondary school, between November 2016 and May 2017. As well as providing short-term employment, this opportunity also provided a space for the refugee workers to share experiences from their home countries and cultures. This inter-cultural exchange received very positive feedback from both students and their families.
Barriers and challenges
At present, the Morus Association faces three main challenges.
- The first relates to resourcing. As a self-funded organisation, Morus activities are currently dependent on income generating activities. As activities develop, the association needs to expand its resource base. At present, Morus is planning to apply for public grants in order to support the associations less-profitable initiatives and provide resources for ongoing management and coordination efforts.
- The second challenge relates to scaling up coordination between civil society-driven efforts, such as Morus Association activities, and municipal services. To date, Morus has only been successful in inviting two local municipalities - Lanzo and Balangero – to collaborate in the provision of hosting and inclusion opportunities for refugees. To increase their impact, Morus needs to scale up this number of local authority partnerships.
- The third challenge facing Morus concerns the association’s ability to host more refugees. Under the current system, asylum seekers typically spend an initial 18-24 month period living in cooperative hosting sites. After this period, however, the cooperatives are no longer mandated (or resourced) to support asylum seekers. For those individuals unable to secure housing and employment during this initial, supported period, leaving cooperative owned housing risks homelessness and destitution. The Morus Association focuses on those individuals facing acute difficulties in obtaining the necessary paperwork and resources to enter private-rental sector housing and, as a higher number of refugees / asylum seekers are expected to arrive in the coming months, there is an urgent need to identify both more families willing to host and support them as well as longer-term housing solutions for such individuals.
Lessons learned and transferability
Morus Association is currently in the process of developing relationships with local authorities in the region. To date, emergent collaborations focusing on hosting and refugees support have been built with Lanzo and Balangero municipalities. However, there is clearly still a long way to go.
At present, too many local authorities fear that proactively supporting refugees and asylum seekers may trigger opposition within the local population. However, the work of organisations such as Morus shows that an alternative scenario is possible. Importantly, facilitating a smoother transition towards migrant inclusion at community level – and building relationships with local authorities – requires partnerships. Morus has, for instance, benefited from the support of associations such as Associazione Mediatori Multiculturali Italiani (AMMI, Italian Mediators Association) and Stranaidea and DallaStessaParte Cooperatives, who manage the refugee / asylum seeker hosting sites and provide mediation activities for local actors in Ciriè.
There is therefore a strong benefit to be gained from supporting the work of these civil society-led initiatives. As such, regional and local governments should consider expanding their support (and resourcing) of these networks within a multi-stakeholder governance framework. Beyond finances, one avenue, currently being explored by Morus, is the appointment of a dedicated civil servant to foster improved and more stable collaborations with local and regional authorities.
Poma M. (2016) Relazione attività Morus Onlus, Ceres (Turin)
Various Authors (2017) Il mondo in paese. Dall’accoglienza all’inclusione dei rifugiati nei comuni rurali del Piemonte. 22 buone pratiche di accoglienza di richiedenti protezione internazionale e rifugiati sul territorio piemontese dai territori montani alla città. Servizio Politiche Sociali e di Parità della Città Metropolitana di Torino, FIERI, Dislivelli, Torino. pp. 30-35. Available at: http://www.torinoelealpi.it/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Buone-pratiche.pdf
Two interviews involved Marino Poma, Morus’ president (August 2017)
I suggested to Marino Poma to share the draft of the Morus Case Study with the other members of the association and with the refugees who are involved in the Morus’ activities. I suggested that this could be an opportunity for encouraging them to provide further comments and personal contributions to the text and for trying to organise a collective writing session. The draft was mailed to the association’s members and presented at a Morus’ association meeting on August 8th.
Elena Di Bella, staff at the Torino Città Metropolitana contributed to the drafting process through e-mail exchanges.s
This case study has been prepared by by Alessio Surian (firstname.lastname@example.org) under the coordination of Barbara Lipietz and Tim Wickson from the Bartlett’s Development Planning Unit (DPU), University College of London (UCL) and the UCLG Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights, in the framework of the MC2CM Project.