Visu Migration Diaconia ValdeseThe Diaconia Valdese has been working with migrants for a number of years but the summer of 2015 has brought a new urgency to the question here in Italy, as in Europe as a whole. We are being asked to reinforce some of our existing services and to experiment with new solutions. Our approach in the past has been to house migrants in small groups of 6 to 8 persons in a couple of adjacent apartments wherever possible so as to permit them as “normal” a life as possible, doing their own shopping and cooking. A cornerstone of our activities has been and continues to be the work of our cultural mediators and other staff members trained in helping people adjust to their new context and to take the first steps in obtaining papers and the possibility of finding work.

A new approach has been tried in the small Sicilian city of Vittoria, where the Diaconia Valdese decided a year ago to house some 60 young migrants our elder care facility where they share some common space with an equal number of elderly residents.  Thanks to the careful work of cultural mediators, and considerable good will on all sides, this experiment is going very well. Until a few weeks ago, the Diaconia Valdese was hosting a total of 130 migrants in small groups in the Waldensian Valleys of northwest Piedmont, Florence, Naples and Vittoria.

In mid August, the Prefect of the Piedmont region contacted the President of the CSD Diaconia Valdese with an urgent request: would we be willing to take over a large facility owned by the Region in the small mountain village of Villar Pellice and handle the hospitality for 60 recently arrived migrants? Il Crumiere, the facility in question, was once a felt making factory. Refurbished 15 years ago as a hotel, it quickly failed and the property sold to the regional authorities. For the last several years, there has been no activity on the site.

After a brief consultation, the CSD decided our only appropriate course was to agree to the proposal and to get to work. After two hectic weeks devoted to cleaning and redecorating where necessary, the facility was ready to welcome its first 20 guests, all young men from sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, an equally attentive preparation was necessary in order to communicate to the 1,200 residents of Villar about the project and to allay some of the fears aroused by certain articles in the local and regional papers.  Working with the president of the church council of Villar Pellice and other church leaders, the Diaconia Valdese organised welcome reception  to which townspeople were invited to mark the arrival of the 20 migrants on Saturday last. Under a blazing summer sun in a beautifully restored courtyard brief speeches were made and translated and then a buffet provided to the townspeople and their new guests.

The first steps have been taken, but more needs to be done to further explain the project to local residents and to address remaining doubts. The local Waldensian church council has called a public meeting for the evening of Wednesday September 2 where residents can pose questions and voice their concerns to the staff members working on the project. The President of the CSD Diaconia Valdese, Giovanni Comba and the Moderator of the Waldensian church, pastor Eugenio Bernardini, will be attending the meeting to provide additional information as required.