Community Matching: Refugee and host communities together for integration in Italy
The project in brief
The project is implemented by Centro Immigrazione Asilo Cooperazione Internazionale - Ciac Onlus and Refugees Welcome Italia ETS - RWI in Italy. It began in October 2021 and end in December 2023.
The Community Matching program promotes matches between refugees and volunteers, in order to facilitate refugees’ integration and active participation in the social, economic, and cultural life of local communities. Through these structured relationships, the program seeks to complement professional integration services and facilitate access to housing and employment solutions, as well as enhance knowledge of the local territory, language, and culture of the host society. By fostering relationships between refugees and local communities, the program creates a favourable environment for integration while mobilising the local community and promoting social cohesion, which can contribute to reducing racism and xenophobia.
- Promote integration and social cohesion, through the active involvement of the local community.
- To influence policymakers so that CM is part of the integration policies of refugee people in Italy.
- To influence public opinion, on the one hand, contributing to overturning the image that refugee people are only bearers of needs and have little to offer the community, and on the other hand fostering mutual understanding, overcoming stereotypes and barriers in the host society.
- To realise pairings (matches) between refugees and volunteers who can support them in their integration path
- Codify a model, through the development of a Methodological Toolkit that contains tools and indicators to facilitate the replicability of the initiative
Since its inception, the program has engaged more than 530 refugees in 10 Italian cities, improving their integration prospects in only 6 months of the duration of each match.
Elements that facilitated the implementation of the good practice included:
- Close cooperation with UNHCR Italy
- The elaboration of a methodological Toolkit that allowed a smooth and uniform implementation of the activities across different locations. The toolkit outlines the approach to be adopted and the tools, and guidelines needed to replicate the Community Matching model elsewhere – thus offering a complete overview of what to do and how for institutions and civil society organisations interested in implementing this approach).
- The growing evidence among professionals, operators, and scholars of the importance of community-based approaches and initiatives in supporting the refugees’ social integration process.
- The extraordinary mobilisation of solidarity and concrete support of the Italian population linked to the Ukrainian crisis.
Main activities of the Good Practice
The activities carried out within the program are articulated in 4 main pillars:
- Implementing community matching initiatives in the selected territories: the program is currently implemented in 10 Italian cities in which local teams of caseworkers operate in close collaboration with a broad network of local NGOs and relevant local authorities. The caseworkers are in charge of mobilizing local communities, reaching out to refugees and volunteers, establishing and following up on matches between refugees and members of the host society, facilitating a community dimension beyond the single match, by organizing outreach and social events among other tasks.
- Development of a standard methodology (the CM Toolkit): The CM program aims at generating evidence and establishing a model that can shape public opinion and guide policymakers in the formulation of integration policies and programs for refugees in Italy. In pursuit of this objective, the program develops and further consolidates a comprehensive methodology (Toolkit), offering practical tools, and a set of indicators that institutions and civil society organizations can utilize to promote the widespread adoption of this approach. Further development of the Toolkit is currently underway based on the feedback and the lessons learned gathered in the first year.
- Advocacy and Dissemination whose goals are twofold: on one hand it aims at sensibilizing public opinion and engaging volunteers in the project; on the other hand, influencing local and central institutions in adopting the CM within their programs and activities. A dedicated Advocacy Tool is currently being drafted.
- Coordination and supervision between UNHCR and the two partners: to ensure an efficient allocation of resources, constant alignment between the central and local levels, and full accountability of the Partner vis-à-vis UNHCR policies and approaches, through monthly meetings with caseworkers, meeting with UNHCR at the central level and a dedicated monitoring and reporting system.
I can say that today Sidi holds a bit of my world in his hands and I have a pinch of his wisdom. And my children know that they have many paths. And that meeting someone is the greatest wealth we have in the world. - A., Volunteer, Rome
What challenges were encountered in delivering the project and how were they overcome?
The main challenges encountered in the program implementation are as follows:
- Lack of collaboration from the reception system at the central level.
- Difficulties to reach out diverse and disperse refugees communities.
- Adapting tools and procedures to a different and more vulnerable target group (i.e. Ukrainian women with children in 2022).
How they were overcome
The aforementioned challenges were addressed through a dedicated risk mitigation strategy that includes:
- Setting up ad hoc reaching out campaign to involve and engage refugees as well as including among the program staff persons with refugee background.
- Strengthening the relation with the managing bodies of the reception centers in the selected territories at the local level.
- Developing ad hoc communication material showing positive example and inspiring stories of refugees already part of the program.
- Strengthening the referral system to specialized services and resources and providing caseworkers with additional PSEA and Safeguarding training in order to allow them to better address specific needs and potential risks.
Results of the Good Practice
In 2022, a set of indicators was devised drawing on the most advanced academic research to measure the impact of the programme on refugees. This system of indicators makes it possible to detect significant changes between the beginning and the end of the match process, six months later.
The 358 participating refugees significantly improved their condition and integration perspectives during the 6-month duration of their match, specifically:
- 50% of the refugees improved their level of Italian
- 36% improved their overall condition
- 86% improved their familiarity with the local context and their ability to access services
- The number of people with employment contracts increased by 25% (from 37% to 62%).
- The number of people with rental contracts increased by 17% (from 18% to 35%).
- 1,446 people became aware of and interested in the programme, including 681 volunteers and 565 refugees in 2022.
In what way does the good practice meet one or more of the four objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees?
Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance
The CM program directly links to the second objective of the Global Compact on Refugees ``Enhance refugee self-reliance”. Thanks to the involvement of civil society and the establishment of significant relations with members of the host community, refugees are in a better position to express their potential and capacities and increase their overall resilience. As reported in several international studies and the impact report released within the program, expanding the refugee social network is a crucial component to fostering their integration process and has a direct impact on other traditional inclusion indicators such as accessing housing solutions or job opportunities.
The expectation is that the program will be extended to other cities and could become an integral component of integration policies and programs in Italy. The Integration National Plan, issued by the Ministry of the Interior and the new FAMI funding scheme, opened up the way in this direction, as both mentioned Community Matching programs as an effective approach to foster integration and allocated funds to Municipalities willing to adopt this initiative.
As we write partners are exploring the possibility of integrating the CM component in the labor pathways and in the Humanitarian Corridors as well as linking it to the broader community sponsorship model.