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at 02In recent years the beautiful Italian coasts have become sadly famous for the arrival of many migrants. Many of them, men, women and children survived the long journey, many others have tragically ended their dreams, hopes and life in the sea. This continuous arrival of persons who ask for asylum and protection shows the two faces of Italy: one is that of welcome and the other one is that of indifference or clear rejection.

In between these human beings each one is different from another. Some of them ask for security because their homeland has become an enemy from which to run away, some others driven by the poverty are looking for a new life in Italy or elsewhere in Europe. Between them, there are also girls, almost entirely from Nigeria, destined by human traffickers to sexual exploitation.

In fact, human traffickers identified in the flows of asylum seekers and in the regularization system the possibility of introducing their victims, setting them in shelter camp where they ask for a regular residence permit. While they are waiting for their request to be accepted, they are forced by traffickers to prostitution so they can pay the debt for the journey. Other girls, however, before they can realize what it means to leave the shelter camp, are intercepted by their exploiter who, personally or through accomplices, are waiting outside the camps to introduce them to prostitution in our territory or bringing them clandestinely in other European countries.

at 03As Franciscan Sisters of the Poor, we asked ourselves how to reply to this new humanitarian emergency, in line with our Chapter call to “work with those who live in situations of social vulnerability: poor people, women, especially those unseen… by promoting education, prayer, advocacy and prevention”.
As Miriam Project, we are answering with a dual commitment.

First of all, we are involved together with the operators of the same area to reflect and project a new way to intercept high-risk situations and so to help these women effectively. In order to have a broader sight and to increase our advocacy role we participate also to various national and international networks like, for example, Renate (Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking & Exploitation).
And secondly, we opened ourselves up to welcome and help a large number of asylum seeker young women identified in camps as victims of trafficking or at high risk of exploitation.

A new kind of travel starts when they arrive at Porta San Giacomo, and this is true for us and for them.

at 01The greatest effort from the girls is to be in a very different reality from that they have imagined. They keep the illusion that in Italy everything can be obtained for free. It is for this reason that, on our side, to be near them means to find the way to make them aware of the real resources of the territory and the risks they face. We are with them to realize that what we can offer is a path that not only provides opportunities, but also requires their personal commitment for the enhancement of their skills and to acquire new ones. We help them to write their stories and present them to the Commission, which will consider their question for the Residence Permit. We are near them in all the required steps, to go with them in the various departments. Daily we share with each of them also problems, expectations, uncertainties, anxieties up to the achievements.

Moreover, to achieve a first level of integration learning the Italian language and the internalization of fundamental rules of coexistence and responsibility is required. For this reason, there is a network of volunteers who offer lectures and conversations in Italian. According to their personal situation, we address them also to external literacy courses held in the area. Some of them succeed to get through grade 12 with satisfaction and joy of all.

The girls can also participate in the occupational laboratory of Miriam project with good results. Manual work, socializing with the other women and the care of the operators help them to achieve the shared goals of autonomy and integration. During their period in our house the synergy of educational interventions is very useful for their growth and development. We are aware that the external reality is often very different: prejudice, ignorance of the real situation, elimination of dedicated services make the approach of these young women in society and labour market difficult. Feeling responsible for this situation, we identify opportunities to propose to the social and ecclesial community, Scouts and other youth groups, students and volunteers, awareness events to promote a correct knowledge of the topic and of the importance of including these women in social life.

In this context, the joy for us is to see in each girl we welcomed also small signals that show us their ability to understand, to accept one another, to be grateful, to assume the task of living in this reality as long as necessary and in a right way.
Our strength is the trust in the Lord of Life who gives us the possibility to serve these women with gratitude and to be witnesses of small and big life changes. We feel the joy and commitment as the farmers who take care of the seeds do, so that those ones can bring new buds and new fruit of transformation and New Life.

The Sisters of Porta San Giacomo

Published:  February 1, 2017