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The Refugee Crisis and the Italy Center

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in 2015, an estimated 850,000 people will have reached the European Union via the Mediterranean Sea. The number of migrants and refugees is nearly four times the total for all of 2014. Every year these movements continue to exact a devastating toll on human life.

During a typical semester, while attending the Italy Center, students will have met face-to face with refugees (Tunisians, Afghanis, Gambians, and others) heard from United Nations officials, Human Rights Watch researchers, church and community leaders all working on the front lines of the crisis.

During the Fall and Spring Social Justice Tours students cross the Adriatic and Ionian seas to meet with the Director of the International Office for for Migration in Athens. Albeit protected from the elements while aboard a large ferry boat, the group is made aware of Europe’s largest mass grave as nearly 4,000 migrants will have drowned in this region in 2015. The voyage serves as part of the emotional and intellectual journey our students undertake in efforts to gain insight into solutions facing the crisis.

Acknowledging the magnitude of the refugee crisis, Pope Francis in his speech to the US Congress reminded us:

“We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal.”

Aiming to walk our social justice talk, Italy Center faculty have worked hard at generating projects which allow our students to take action and work as allies for those fleeing poverty, war and famine.

Here are ten ways in which Italy Center students have taken action:
  1. Greece Immigration Tour: A twelve-day program helping students to focuses on complex human rights issues.
  1. Social Justice Tours to Puglia & Sicily: Ongoing meetings with immigrants and anti mafia activists.
  1. Concert for Syrians: In October students raised funds to help pay for a Syrian family to leave a camp in Turkey and move towards safety in Germany.
  1. Inter religious Dialogue: Each semester, Bologna’s Rabbi, the head of the Muslim community and our Jesuit Fathers take on a theological issue in the spirit of harmony.
  1. Refugee Center: Students are now hosting dance parties with teenage asylum seekers who are stranded in a collective center in Bologna.
  1. Human Rights Filmmaking: Each semester students create films highlighting a pressing issue facing Italy. Check out some of films!
  1. The World is on Fire Conference: Thirty-two students recently took part in an international refugee crisis conference in Poland.
  1. Independent Research: Senior Carson Westerfield travelled to Calabria for his independent research involving immigration, human rights and environmental sustainability.
  1. English as a Foreign Language: Italy Center students run their own language program attracting approximately thirty immigrants per semester often representing as many as 15 nations.
  1. Summer Human Rights Internships: To be launched in the summer of 2016, a select few will intern with agencies in Sicily helping those immigrants who have survived the treacherous journey across the sea at the hands of traffickers.


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