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Valencia, open city. The Caritas model of social integration for Aquarius migrants

On June 17, 630 migrants from the Aquarius rescue-ship disembarked in Valencia thanks to the availability of the Spanish government, after being rejected by Italy 8 days before. The migrants are now undergoing medical screenings and identification procedures at the Red Cross centres. The archdiocese of Valencia has made available all of its resources – centres, families, volunteers – for their reception upon completion of the first procedures

Murale nel barrio del Carmen, Valencia - foto: P. Caiffa/Sir

(from Valencia) Large avenues lined with trees, the river, the port, the old city of Valencia flow under the eyes of the visitor while the Spanish Radio transmits the latest news from Italy. A commentator warns on the risk of reinstatement of racial laws in Italy and a resurgence of barbarism thought to belong to a bygone past. In the meantime the murals of the ancient barrio del Carmen depict the dead at sea, children rescued from the waters. Last Sunday, the open city of Valencia welcomed 630 migrants who disembarked from Aquarius rescue ship of the NGO Sos Mediterranée, thanks to the availability of the Spanish government, after Italy had refused entry 8 days earlier. The migrants are currently hosted in Red Cross centres for medical screenings and identification procedures. Children have been transferred to Alicante. The Archdiocese of Valencia has made all its resources available – reception centres, services, families, volunteers – to ensure “unlimited” welcome in the period that will follow the preliminary reception procedures coordinated by public institutions. For confidentiality and security purposes Caritas Valencia did not make known the locations where the migrants will be hosted. Caritas Valencia has a long tradition of solidarity and a long-time experience in this field with 6000 volunteer  workers, the largest diocesan Caritas in Spain. It is here that the world’s first orphanage was set up along with the first centre for people with mental disorders in the 15th century. In fact the city’s patron Saint is the Virgen de los desemparados, Our Lady of the Homeless, and nobody is in greater need of a home than forced migrants. In 2017 it provided assistance to 25,000 migrants, including those in transit, or staying for short periods, through 439 parish Caritas centres, 69 diocesan residential schools, family homes and numerous innovative services and projects. 48% of Caritas “users” are foreigners. Before the arrival of the Aquarius migrants, it was decided to expand the staff and the homes to be made available. But the real strength is the model of social integration, geared to the autonomy of the hosted population..

In primo piano: Nacho Grande, direttore Caritas spagnola. Foto: Alberto Saiz

A path leading to social integration. “For us assisting people means providing full assistance in all areas: accompaniment, closeness, legal assistance, job orientation, along with material, human and spiritual support”, Nacho Grande, Director of Caritas Valencia, told SIR. At the moment, the housing facilities host 38 asylum-seekers and 45 migrants sin papeles, (undocumented migrants). “We try to help them regularize their position.” The majority depart from Morocco and Algeria and cross the Strait of Gibraltar with makeshift boats. They arrive in the so-called “southern frontier”, the Andalusian coasts, then move eastwards through other Spanish cities until they reach Valencia. Others arrive from the north. Over 14 000 arrived in the first six months of 2018, 50% more compared to last year (figures released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees – UNHCR), signalling a new change in migratory routes. However, there is also a reverse migration, whereby migrants from Latin America and East European Countries are returning to their country of origin for lack of work in the orange harvest or in services.

Pioneers in the practice of charity. “The diocese of Valencia has always been a creative pioneer in the practice of charity activity – said the Caritas directors -. It’s a unique vocation in Spain, characterising the line of action of our Church consisting in support to the homeless, namely all those left without any form of assistance. In this case immigrants arriving in our land have nothing, and they are a priority for us.” However, everyone was taken by surprise by the extraordinary display of generosity after the news that the city would welcome the Aquarius migrants. In the first days, diocesan hotlines were inundated with calls. “It cannot be denied that prejudices against migrants are widely spread among certain population brackets –he said -, which is also a result of the economic crisis that hit Spain. But in general it can be said that solidarity and welcome prevail. Although 33% of the overall population live in chronic relative poverty conditions, no serious conflict has been registered among the poorest brackets.”

L’ingresso del Centro Mambré di Caritas Valencia

The Mambré Centre, the path towards autonomy. The Mambré Centre in Torre Feil, a quiet, popular district, will be providing services to the new migrants.  The Centre has been active in this field for thirty years, but its present seat is just one-year old as can be seen in its large, spacious halls, and in the modern carpentry, gardening and bicycle repair workshops that provide “pre-employment” skills to the guests, against the backdrop of lush orchards and creative recycled and repurposed  furnishings. Upon their arrival in the Centre, migrant guests are asked to trace their difficult, often dramatic journey with a line on a large world map placed at the entrance. The daycentre receives approximately 80/90 homeless every day, most of them foreigners, assisted by some fifty volunteer workers.  The premises of the Centre include 5 family homes for 6/7 people, individuals or families. A dedicated section provides support to women victims of trafficking through the “Jere-Jere” program, currently assisting 120 women, most of whom are Nigerian or Romanian.  It is estimated that in Valencia, the third largest Spanish city with 1.700 million inhabitants, approximately one thousand people live on the street or in makeshift accommodation facilities. “Almost all of them are people who were left alone, without a family or friends, who fell victim of social exclusion as a result of personal problems – said Ana Lopez, coordinator of the Inclusion Department of the Mambré  Centre-. We develop customised assistance programs to help them become independent and integrate into society. We seek to recreate the job environment they are likely to experience and help them develop relational skills, giving priority to the Spanish language. We also facilitate access to healthcare services.”


Ana Lopez, Centro Mambré, ValenciaAquarius migrants offered a 45-day stay permit: “It’s not enough”. In the past few days the organization activities focus on migrants on board of Aquarius: “We are planning to increase our material and human resources. We intend to open other two housing centres for them.” However, the Centre’s workers are worried about the 45-day humanitarian permits granted by the Spanish government. “Asylum-seekers are normally granted a 6-month permit, but it takes from one to two years to achieve full autonomy – Lopez pointed out -. 45 days are not enough. The risk is that once the reception period is over they might end up on the street, sleeping in parks or near the river, in situations of illegality. Here the summer season lasts many months, and winter is short. But the needs remain.”


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