The situation in Ukraine has already generated 4 million refugees outside the country and more inside. The mobilization in support of the Ukrainian population has been general and immediate. As Scalabrinian Missionaries in Europe and Africa, we have always been sensitive to the many conflicts still being fought in the world, and in this case too we took action to support people fleeing war.
In the various ASCS offices in Italy we have been working since the beginning to give a concrete and efficient response, on the one hand by strengthening the services we already provide to migrants and refugees, and on the other hand by creating ad hoc activities able to intervene in particularly critical areas. Thanks to the donations collected with #WeCareForUkraine, a fundraising campaign in response to the great humanitarian emergency, we are continuing to respond to this dramatic situation that is disrupting the lives of millions of people. The partnership with other associations and local realities is becoming more and more necessary and indispensable.
In the ASCS office in Milan, the activities are carried out in collaboration with Fr. René Manenti of the Carmine Church and with the Associazione Ucraina Più Milano. The common goal of creating a safe space for those fleeing war and guaranteeing access to diversified services makes this collaboration even more solid, especially since our association’s bond with the Ukrainian community has always been strong, as demonstrated by the fact that in 2021, among the 251 women followed by the WASI project, 62 were Ukrainian-speaking.
The aftermath of war, migration to another country, and unstable family conditions can create deep traumas and require immediate intervention, which is why psychological support in the language has been indispensable from the very first moments of this emergency. Carefully identifying and responding to this need, it was decided to increase the number of Ukrainian-speaking psychologists to two in Milan and one in Rome, in an attempt to extend the service to as many migrants as possible. WASI Project, which aims to be a listening space for migrant women in the delicate process of elaborating on the reality of migration, currently has 15 Ukrainian women being followed individually and 3 AMA (self-help) groups, two of which are intended only for women and one open to all.
Since the first weeks after the outbreak of the conflict, the willingness and generosity of volunteers and the community made it possible to collect and distribute products for personal hygiene and educational materials for children. In addition, in agreement with Esselunga Market, shopping vouchers were distributed to 35 families identified through the contacts of the Ukraine Più Association. As the crisis deepened, the first intervention was to make rooms available for the direct reception of some families. There are currently three families, two women with children and a couple. In response to the social emergency, Italian language classes have been made available for 92 adults and 40 children, which take place three times a week (Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday). The teachers are three Ukrainian women, Liliana, Nataliya and Marina, together with Giovanni, Lina and Monica, the latter Scalabrinian Secular Missionaries. The courses are a time for meeting and learning, but also a way of coming together and finding glimpses of normality. Tuesday is also the day for games and art therapy for both boys and girls and older children.
At Casa Scalabrini 634, an ASCS project in Rome, the first intervention was in support of activities to collect basic necessities in collaboration with the associations Medicina Solidale and MAM, providing spaces and moments of collection. In addition, we were immediately available to welcome the families arriving. Three mother/child teams were welcomed and two of them decided to continue their journey in the home. The initial mistrust, combined with a closure dictated by the thought that it would be a temporary accommodation while waiting for a return home, has over time given way to the inclusion of everyone in the activities of the house. The main connection was with the other boys and girls living at Casa Scalabrini 634: the moments of play became more and more numerous and spontaneous. Hence, also the participation in meetings and dinners is becoming more and more the norm. Italian language classes are being organised, in collaboration with our volunteers, according to the needs of the families. The MAM clinic, the socio-legal desk and other services that are offered to the rest of the community are being made available, always paying attention to the particular situation that these people are experiencing. We are also active in various territorial coordination networks from the Department of Social Policies, to the city committee, to the Catholic network, in order to give a uniform response to this emergency.
As Scalabrinian Missionaries, we have opened our doors in Italy, welcoming, as already mentioned, some families and offering our availability to extend this first reception service to Loreto and Bassano del Grappa. Now we are only waiting for the prefecture to establish the times and ways of this reception.
Outside Italy, SIMN Global has decided to support #WeCareForUkraine, so as to further strengthen the commitment already put in place by SIMN Europe Africa through ASCS. Also in the missions in Europe, in different forms and modalities, the missionaries are cooperating in reception projects, in collections of goods and finances with local and international bodies or directly in collaboration with ASCS.
In Switzerland, for example, our Missions in Bern, Basel and Geneva tell us that humanitarian interventions have been organised, various collections of basic necessities, as well as funds sent to religious organisations such as Caritas Internationalis or to local civil bodies involved in providing basic services in the country.
Father Antonio Grasso, parish priest of the Italian Catholic Mission in Bern, in collaboration with the Italian Embassy, has informed us that for some time now he has been working with pharmacies and local organisations to collect medicines, foodstuffs and other materials for the Ukraine. The Mission has also printed leaflets in several languages to reach not only our compatriots, but also other citizens. The Mission itself has set up a fund to be used for emergency aid and projects that it will follow up directly. It should be noted that the leaflet produced by the young people in Bern was also used by the Comites (Commission of Italians Abroad) and the Italian Catholic Mission in Basel, which will take the collection of basic necessities to be sent to the displaced people to Bern.
The three Scalabrinian Missions in Bern (Italian, Portuguese with Fr Oscar Gil and Spanish with Fr Emmanuel Cerda), in collaboration with the Ukrainian Community, have also organised a prayer vigil for peace on Sunday 10th April. At the request of the Centre for Asylum Seekers in Berne, with whom we have been collaborating for some time on the situation of Eritrean refugees, the Italian Mission has made the theatre available for some activities to be planned when the children are out of school, such as during the Easter holidays. Stable animation work remains, as well as language courses and psychological assistance.
Also in Switzerland, Father Bruno Zen of the Italian Catholic Mission of Birsfelden, Pratteln/Augst and Muttenz organised several fundraising activities supporting #WeCareForUkraine and the activities promoted by the ASCS.
The first 50 Ukrainian migrants arrived in Carouge, a Swiss municipality in the Canton of Geneva and a branch of the Italian Catholic Mission in Geneva run by Fr. Corrado Caroli: of this group 17 intended to stay in Switzerland. At present, our rest home “La Provvidenza” is providing meals for all these refugees, while the municipality of Carouge has made its municipal hall available. There has also been a census on the availability of accommodation and many Italian border crossers have been willing to open their homes.
Some initiatives already planned, such as the traditional “Soupe de Carême”, will raise funds in support of the ASCS #WeCareForUkraine Campaign. The Italian Catholic Mission of Geneva also managed to facilitate a family reunion of a grandmother and two grandchildren with the mother of the little ones.
As for the Portuguese Community, led by Fr Miguel Dalla Vecchia, in addition to the three trucks of products already sent to the Ukrainian border, it has organised two more. There was also a request to organize the transport of material collected and stored on the premises of the Maltese Cross to Zurich and then to the border with Ukraine. The Spanish community, in particular, run by Fr. Juan Garcia, made itself available to transport these goods to Zurich.
In Paris, Fr Barly Kiweme reports that the Church and the State have worked together to help. Many charitable associations have moved to help and in our Italian Catholic Mission, as well as collecting funds for #WeCareForUkraine, through the usual “Lenten commitment”, there has been a great deal of generosity that has led to the collection of goods and clothing then distributed to refugee families in the area. Our mission is in contact with the Basilica run by the Ukrainians and we are planning some moments of prayer together similar to what we experienced on 13 March last, with the prayer for peace. As missionaries, however, we are also concerned about other situations of fragility. In Ukraine at the outbreak of the war there were other foreigners in the country and now refugees, like several African students. A young Nigerian from Ukraine, for example, knocked on the door of our mission intending to go to Sweden and the mission supported him to continue his journey.
In London, Fr Francesco Buttazzo, reported that the Italian, Portuguese and Filipino Community had decided to dedicate the Lenten Appeal (an annual fundraising event during Lent) to raise money to donate to the ASCS campaign.
In Luxembourg, Fr Rui Pedro emphasized that a great generosity of people has grown, shared by both our Portuguese and Luxembourg communities, who are reliving what they went through after the Second World War, finding themselves in a country that needs to be rebuilt. There was a public street demonstration against the war. Town halls and municipalities have been looking for houses and families willing to host them. A school will be set up specifically for Ukrainian children and the Catholic Church has opened a dedicated emergency telephone line to respond to various emergencies.
We feel we had to tell you a lot about this missionary effort to help you understand the common effort made by the Scalabrinian Congregation and its affiliated entities in the face of yet another emergency, while remaining active on other fronts, it is appropriate to use this term. As a matter of fact we are still raising awareness of human mobility in all its facets or the world of international Scalabrinian voluntaries that animate and walk together with many migrants and refugees in our missions around the world.
As SIMN Europe Africa, through ASCS, we continue to work in the field and to update you on the activities we are carrying out with #WeCareForUkraine, sure that together with you we can continue to give an answer to this new dramatic situation that is upsetting the lives of millions of people, without forgetting all the other migrants and refugees we accompany every day.