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MSF in Italy, 2008
Field Staff: 23
Reason for Intervention:
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Italy has experienced a growing influx of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers since 2002. Looking for refuge, jobs or better living conditions, these people bear the brunt of increasingly strict measures designed to deter migration. As these measures are tightened, so reception conditions deteriorate. As a result, these already vulnerable people face a system unable to meet their basic needs, including protection and healthcare.
MSF provides healthcare to the migrant population, including seasonal migrant workers, and lobbies for better access to services and living conditions for them.
Naples is the third largest city in Italy. It attracts large numbers of migrants: an estimated 25,000 live there unofficially, outside the state system. They are excluded from society and public services. In order to improve their access to health care, MSF has set up clinics integrated into the country’s national health services with a view to handing them over to authorities in the future. To reduce barriers created by the patients’ irregular situation, assistance is provided in a way that ensures their anonymity. In 2008, MSF provided nearly 5,000 consultations in the clinics. To respond to the high incidence of sexually transmitted infections amongst female undocumented migrants, MSF also launched a sexual and reproductive health care program that provided more than 1,000 consultations in 2008.
Every year, the agricultural lands of southern Italy attract thousands of undocumented migrants, a cheap labor force that is subjected to exploitation and intolerable living conditions. Since 2005, MSF has worked in Sicily, Puglia, Calabria and Campania to provide assistance to this population. In 2008, MSF undertook more than 700 consultations and distributed 3,750 hygiene kits, 1,500 sleeping bags, and 800 blankets.
To help improve these people’s living conditions, MSF lobbied the authorities for a humanitarian intervention for all migrant workers, regardless of their legal status. As a result, regional authorities in Puglia, Calabria and Campania undertook emergency measures to guarantee basic living conditions – toilets, showers, water tanks – and adequate medical services for the 4,000 migrants working in the area. These measures followed recommendations in the MSF report, A Season in Hell, which exposes the deplorable health, work, and living conditions of migrant workers in southern Italy.
Until October 2008, MSF provided medical care for migrants arriving by boat in Lampedusa, south of Sicily. The harsh journey poses a risk to their health and only through MSF was medical care available to newly arrived migrants. In October 2008, Italian authorities refused to renew the agreement that allowed MSF to work on the island. As a result, MSF was forced to leave and the thousands of migrants who arrive now in Lampedusa have no access to health care. Between January and October, MSF provided consultations to 1,420 people. Pathologies such as respiratory infections and skin diseases were mostly associated with the harsh conditions of the sea journey.
MSF is negotiating with authorities a possible return to Lampedusa. In 2008, more than 30,000 undocumented migrants and asylum seekers landed on the island.
Throughout Italy, the work with migrants is carried out with the support of cultural mediators, who help bridge communications and cultural gaps between the team and the patients.
MSF has worked in Italy since 1999.