Italy: Assisting vulnerable refugees

© Espen Rasmussen
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Sudanese refugees who attempted to escape the violence in their own country found themselves living in Rome's Tiburtina train station for months amid very poor conditions.

In 2003, MSF worked with the national health system in Rome, Sicily and Lombardy to push for implementation of a law that enables immigrants lacking identification documents to receive medical care. Because of its location, Sicily is the point at which boat refugees most frequently land in Italy. Many are fleeing conflict or other dangerous situations in their home countries and risk their lives in crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

On Lampedusa, a small island south of Sicily, an MSF nurse provided medical care at the reception center set up to help newly arrived refugees. From September 2002 until December 2003, MSF assisted more than 10,000 people at the center. MSF also offers emergency medical aid to refugees arriving on Sicily's southern coast. An MSF mobile unit remains on standby 24 hours a day so that the team can provide aid and explain Italy's immigration policy to newly arrived immigrants.

In addition, approximately 400 asylum seekers sought shelter in the rundown Tiburtina train station in the center of Rome. They were refugees from Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and other African countries, living in Italy. Facilities at the station were terrible with no running water, electricity or heat.

In October 2003, MSF began providing medical care to these asylum seekers. The team also participated in an advocacy action calling for a permanent, humane solution to this dire situation. The action coincided with the reconstruction of the station, whose owners started to evict all of the asylum seekers in August 2004. City authorities have now relocated all of them to other locations in Rome.

MSF has worked in Italy since 1999.