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Enhancing COVID-19 response through the engagement of migrant associations in Italy

Generazione Ponte Association organizes food parcel distribution in Turin



Diaspora associations played a crucial role in the response to the COVID-19 outbreak implementing diversified initiatives in the countries they bridge in a unique situation that hit diaspora twice: both in Europe and with reference to their countries of origin.  With the aim of  enhancing interventions being carried out by migrant associations in response to the pandemic, IOM Italy financed six projects thanks to the support of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MAECI-DGCS) and the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS). The program A.MI.CO. Emergency Covid-19 has been built on the platform and experience of the A.MI.CO. initiative (Migrants Associations for Co-development). The projects focused on prevention, protection and relief activities and have been implemented in Europe (Italy), Africa (Burkina Faso, Guinea Conakry, Senegal) and Asia (Bangladesh) with the aim to directly address the needs of vulnerable communities.  

Through these initiatives, associations have been supporting communities, both in Italy and in their countries of affiliation the hardest hit by the crisis in several ways: i) prevention: countering fake news related to the COVID19 pandemic, promoting information awareness activities; ii) protection: producing and distributing of protection devices such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, promoting access to basic health services; and iii) relief: distribution of food parcels, support in obtaining the subsidies provided by local authorities, legal and housing assistance, provision of informatic devices and internet connection services for students to attend online school classes, promoting access to education. The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the stark inequities that exist in access to health and social support services for marginalized people who live  precariously, often outside formal healthcare systems and social, labour and legal protection measures. Marginalized groups are thus among people the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.  In this context, the response of civil society and not-for-profit organizations to the crisis has been crucial to ensure timely interventions on the ground and to address the issues triggered or intensified by the emergency. In relation to that, in April 2020 IOM Italy launched a rapid assessment to get a quick overview of the challenges faced by migrant associations and understand how they were responding (or intended to respond) to the crisis both in their communities in Italy and in their countries of affiliation.

The assessment showed migrant associations’ capacity to promptly identify the demands and challenges of their constituencies. It emerged how language barriers and lack of connectivity could prevent migrants’ communities from accessing online services and understanding governments’ requirements and instructions in relation to Covid19, thus increasing the feeling of isolation and the psychological toll of this situation1. It also showed the considerable impact of quarantine measures on people whose livelihoods depend on day-to-day and informal jobs. Additional constraints on people’s ability to leave their homes and to earn a living have severely affected the remittances flows, thereby leaving many households in countries of origin on the verge of poverty. 

"The pandemic has affected everyone. A new “us” needs to emerge and the role of diasporas in the societies they bridge proved to be crucial in this process." - A. Ahmed, Generazione Ponte Association

Notwithstanding the critical situation, the survey identified several national and transnational responses promoted by these associations, including both nonformal and structured interventions in collaboration with Municipalities and foundations. It is precisely on the basis of these experiences that IOM Italy decided to promote the A.MI.CO. Emergency Initiative. Emergency Initiative and thus contribute to enhancing diasporas’ role in addressing the COVID19 crisis.  The COVID-19 outbreak offers an opportunity to reflect on the importance of applying local approaches to assistance in emergency situations, especially when travel restrictions do not allow international organizations, or associations at the central level, to deploy their staff in a timely manner and ensure the necessary geographical coverage.  Within this framework, migrant associations play a key role and represent a unique opportunity to ensure an effective and integrated response. The A.MI.CO. Emergency Initiative demonstrated how diasporas can serve as first transnational responders independently mobilizing support networks in the very earliest days of the emergency, being able to address the needs of the most remote and hard-to-reach vulnerable communities and set up structured interventions embedded in governmental priorities and in synergies with local authorities.  



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