Spring Hill College Magazine
Edited By Ashley Rains
Alia K. Nardini, PhD, is an Italian Professor who teaches Political Science and International Relations at the Bologna-based Spring Hill College Italy Center, where she also directs the internship program. This past summer, she arranged for five former study-abroad students to serve on the front lines of the migrant crisis. The following is an excerpt of an article Nardini wrote about the internship experience.
Summer in Italy signals an exodus of Italians flocking to the beaches for pleasure while, further south, human traffickers work overtime taking advantage of calm seas to smuggle migrants to coastal destinations. The number of people fleeing Libya, which is 185 miles south of Italy, continues to grow – as of mid-summer more than 70,000 have arrived in Italy, a 28 percent increase from the same period last summer. It is anticipated that, once again, more than one million refugees and migrants will cross over into Europe this year.
Our summer interns are Graziella Ioele (Saint Joseph’s University ‘15), Dana Wilder (Spring Hill College ‘17), Astrea Somarriba (University of San Francisco ‘15), Micah Pfotenhauer (Saint Louis University ‘18) and Alessandra Testa (The College of New Jersey ‘17). They are at different points in their lives, studied different disciplines and have different personalities and passions. They all want to pursue different careers, but a common denominator is that the group came prepared, having studied the migrant crisis from various academic backgrounds and perspectives.
As I write this, these American interns stand on a jetty in Brindisi, a modest-sized port city in Puglia, alongside various agencies that are prepared to welcome more than 500 asylum-seekers. The group’s supervisor, Ioele, has briefed them on this emergency landing, providing political and practical background. More than 13,500 people have landed in Italy in the past 48 hours, and these young women will be the first nonmilitary contact for many who were rescued at sea by a U.K. Royal Navy ship on an anti-migrant smuggling operation.
Pope Francis has repeatedly insisted that we have a duty to help those fleeing from poverty and war, something that the people of Puglia have modeled in their humble ways for decades. The “refugee crisis,” as it is now known, began in Brindisi in 1991, when the coastal town witnessed – unexpectedly and overnight – the arrival of 27,000 Albanians escaping their communist dictatorship. Since then, the city has welcomed refugees and economic migrants. Brindisi has hence been on the forefront of the immigration fluxes that Europe has experienced in the last decades.
As a whole, the interns have taken on an informal methodology anchored in the notion of “radical compassion.” That is, not demonizing people based on the labels that some locals, aid providers or media have produced, while simultaneously being aware of one’s surroundings and the politics at play in this crisis.
Our interns continue to shadow professionals in the Asylum Seekers’ Reception Center and are learning the legal, psychological, cultural, medical and linguistic basics of the refugee welcome process. They have been running art therapy and poetry projects for asylum-seekers who are waiting indefinitely for a local commission to decide their destiny. They have also been working at the Catholic agency Caritas, spending time with women and children who are under international protection and are trying to start a new life in Italy. At Caritas, the interns are learning to cook Italian meals for the poor – Italians and migrants alike – and are breaking down the inevitable barriers that arise between those in need and those who give aid.
Brindisi has become a second home to these women, one that has changed them deeply and that they will carry in their hearts forever. But I also believe that the city of Brindisi will be changed by them – that it will become a little more international, a little more aware, a little more capable of seeing how incredible its own strengths are. The world needs to know what is happening here.