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Labour integration of refugees: the cooperative formula

29 February 2016 [ English ] français ]

Since its creation, social cooperative Camelot in Bologna and Ferrara, Italy, has worked on programs for the labour integration of migrants, including asylum seeker and refugees. It provides services within the framework of the long-term Italian program SPRAR (1) for the integration of asylum seekers and refuges. In just one year in 2015, the cooperative followed 541 adults and minors in different establishments in Ferrara and Bologna.

They provide services including mentoring, courses in Italian language, training courses, and internships in organisations across the region. Since 2011, the cooperative has also managed emergency programs under Italian law.

The cooperative was set up in 1999 by 12 young people and 3 associations with experience in social work from different organisations across the region, and now employs 200 people - of which 20% are migrants. “Ten refugees are already working in the field with us. We have a colleague from Pakistan who is a lawyer. At the beginning he didn’t want to stay in Italy, but now he works with the same working conditions as the rest of us. Some of them have asked to become members of the cooperative – and they will be very soon. In the meantime, they are already participating in the decisions made by the cooperative”, says Federico Tsucalas, who works at the Migration Area managed by the cooperative. “They are not just mediators, and can tell that from the experience they have: as a result they are gaining more trust in us. They are valued members of our team”.

Ten cooperatives created by refugees

Until 2014, Camelot implemented and coordinated a project which aimed to encourage vulnerable refugees (victims of torture, disabled people…) (2) to set up their own cooperatives. Twelve enterprises were created, ten of which were cooperatives. The project included the provision of training courses on principles of cooperatives and how to manage them. In Ferrara, three refugees set up a security service cooperative. “There is now a problem with autonomy at the heart of these enterprises: the workers themselves are not autonomous, they don’t have their basic needs met”, says Tsucalas.

When asked how social cooperatives can help with the integration of migrants, Tsucalas underlined that the process must first be put in place without the cooperatives: “First the migrants need to form their own communities – that way they can begin to cooperate amongst themselves, and then with cooperatives in general. Social cooperatives in particular can play a role”. He also points out the need for the structures to have younger people in leading positions: “they can better understand the ways in which foreigners contribute. We cannot lose their potential. This is not a question of charity; we are employing them because they are good. Little by little cooperatives will understand that migrants are a great resource. If we want our sector to be productive we need to understand that we cannot let them go”.

More information here


(1) SPRAR (Sistema di Protezione per Richiedenti Asilo e Rifugiati, Protection System for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, in English). Financed by the Ministry for the Interior through the National Fund for Asylum Policy and Services, its aim is to support and protect asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants who fall under other forms of humanitarian protection.
(2) www.programmaintegra.it/wp/programma-integra/progetti/re-startup-rete-nazionale-per-la-creazione-di-imprese-cooperative-di-titolari-di-protezione-internazionale-vulnerabili-modulo-1/