Summer School on Migration, Human Rights and Democracy
June 29 – July 3, 2015
Favignana, Trapani – Italy
The sea has always been attractive and fascinating for me, thus attending a Summer School on an island, in the South of Italy was an idea that I was very excited about. However, recently the sea has been the carrier of other meanings and other burdens, people forced to flee their homes by means of unsafe boats, aiming to reach Italian shores and to find protection or a better life in Europe.
I was looking forward to learning more about ways to respond to the current migration challenges, about how to perceive these challenges as a social scientist and about what policy recommendations would be envisaged by people who work, study or teach in this field.
The 9th edition of the International Summer School on Migration, Human Rights and Democracy, organised by the University of Palermo, focused the issues of “separated children” and migrant children. The event was coordinated by Professor Elisabetta di Giovanni and Director Aurelio Angelini.
There were 45 participants and 26 presenters from European and non-European countries, the language of the presentations being English and Italian. The topics of discussion and the areas covered varied from the issues of migrant children and the case of Mafia Capitale in Sicily, to Egyptian unaccompanied minors living in Italy, the experiences of (un)welcoming refugees in Hungary, labour migrants of Kyrgyzstan and children left behind, measures to combat Illegal migration in the Russian Federation, Programs and European policies for unaccompanied children protection, Global diaspora problematics and European identity.
Unfortunately, two of the participants could not reach the destination as they did not receive a Visa for Italy, thus the topics: Using Religion as Justification for the Abuse of the Nigerian Child and How Afghan Children Immigrants Turn into the Phenomenon Called Children on Street in Iran could not be presented.
One of the most interesting presentations for me was the one by Elena Mignosi from the University of Palermo. She conducted a workshop, focusing on the psychological perception of perspectives about “alterity” and the role of the caregiver in the inclusion processes of migrant children. The workshop was an experience of exploring the self, the limits of the self and the interaction with other beings, within the perceived limits of the self. The tool used for this activity was a virtual balloon, the boundaries of which were represented by the length of opened hands. The purpose of the activities for each of the participants was to try and empathize with a separated, unaccompanied minor and to connect to him/her in a manner that renders communication and relationships effective.
On Wednesday and Thursday mornings, Professor Liza Ceroni Long from Eastern Michigan University gave a charming speech entitled Culture, Migration and Conflict; and also about the importance of acknowledging the imprint of culture in our thinking, actions and reactions. Even the way a person introduces himself/herself and their presentation to the audience is revealing their culture. For instance, typically a French person would introduce the presentation by thanking the organisers for their generosity, while an Italian person would start by complaining and an American would start with a joke. As an Italian born, American citizen, who spent more than 10 years in Japan, her teaching was relevant for the broader topic related to how different cultures of migrant groups interact and raised important questions about who we are, depending on where we were born and on which culture contributed to shaping our beings.
Professor Anamaria Mitrano captured the attention of the audience and my admiration by her bright speech on Exodus, Human Rights and Coexistence. A Cultural Anthropologist from the University of Palermo, with significant experience in the field, she emphasized the shift in the nature of contemporary democracy and politics towards a capitalist driven society, a place where the economy dictates the rules of living and especially the treatment of fellow human beings. Migration is not a new feature in human society; it’s been there since the very beginning of human race, which started migrating from Africa. Moreover, European societies are facing demographic problems due to population aging and they also need labour force. Then why does the current political regime at European level try so hard to build walls, to control migration and to shape it according to its will? It was argued that democracy as a political system should come under scrutiny and new ways of being political should be put forward.
Another interesting aspect of her lecture was her underlining the coexistence of migrant communities within the Italian society and the factors that contribute to it. This peaceful relationship is facilitated by cultural affinities, religious similarities and also by a certain action/reaction type of behavior. This behavior referred to, on the one hand Italians welcoming the migrant (Romanian, Albanian, Tunisian, Bangladeshi, African) who provides labour force in the fields where Italians are happy not to work, and on the other hand migrant communities integrate (to a certain degree) quite smoothly, by learning the language and co-existing in a society that seems and feels welcoming enough.
Speaking of the welcoming and generosity of the native inhabitants, my time spent in Sicily was marked by a surprisingly pleasant experience one evening, when I was trying to find a shop that would be open after 10 p.m. and buy a bottle of water. Water was a critical part of the daily life in a place where temperature was 35°C+ and water was never for free, it usually cost 1 or 2 EUR per bottle. After walking a long distance without finding any shop, I tried to buy water from a couple of restaurants, an attempt that proved to be unsuccessful until the last moment. Finally, I entered a small, local restaurant where Italians were enjoying their dinner and drinks in a cheering atmosphere and I asked for a bottle of water. The waiter asked me if I also wanted to order food and I replied no. After a few moments he came back with a 1-liter bottle of water and gave it to me. I asked how much it was (in Italian) and he replied it costs nothing, I insisted that I wanted to pay, but he steadily refused to take any money from me. I was happy to have found water and I was astonished that the water was for free, offered with a smile.
In a nutshell, the conference was a valuable learning and sharing experience, with the papers to be published in an edited volume by Aracne publisher, Rome and in the Migration Studies journal.