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Online videos and hotlines help refugees cope with Italy's coronavirus lockdown

by Thin Lei Win | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 19 March 2020 20:08 GMT

An empty street with a banner that reads "Coronavirus emergency, #I stay at home" is pictured as the Italian government continues restrictive movement measures to combat the coronavirus outbreak, in Rome, Italy March 14, 2020. REUTERS/Alberto Lingria

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The campaign to help Italy's more than 300,000 refugees have published informational videos online in 32 languages

By Thin Lei Win

ROME, March 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Against a dark blue background, white text interspersed with illustrations of a washing machine, a gas pump and a cigarette explains where people can shop during Italy's unprecedented coronavirus lockdown.

At the bottom is a hashtag - #NONSEISOLO, which means "You are not alone", the title of a campaign to help refugees and migrants navigate Italy's efforts to contain the contagion, which has so far killed nearly 3,000 people in the country.

"We wanted a campaign to help them in this difficult period, because a lot of them don't know what they have to do," said Ilaria Leccardi, who works for APS Cambalache, the non-profit behind the effort.

It is posting the materials, written in simple English, French and Italian, on its website and Facebook page, and has also set up a WhatsApp account to assist and answer questions.

Currently, Italy's 60 million people are only allowed to travel for work, medical reasons or emergencies under an order that runs until April 3, while most shops except pharmacies and those selling food are to remain closed until March 25.

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Cambalache, based in the northern Italian town of Alessandria, has suspended its normal operations, which include training refugees and asylum seekers on beekeeping, and turned to online lessons and webinars.

But this is a challenge because the refugees do not have access to computers or good wifi, Leccardi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"They have just their phones and sometimes four or five people look at the lessons together."

Italy had nearly 300,000 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2018, according to the United Nations, and rights groups say they were vulnerable even before the pandemic hit, facing difficulty accessing basic services.

Other support groups such as Il Grande Colibri, which help gay, bisexual and trans refugees and migrants, Camera a Sud and Arca di Noe, are also using videos to share essential information.

Between them, they have published videos in 32 languages, including Arabic, Nigerian pidgin and Bengali, about the virus and how to get help, on their websites and Instagram and in schools and public libraries.

Nearly 80,000 people visited Il Grande Colibri's website within a few days to see the videos, which are being updated every day, said Ginevra Campaini, executive board member of the volunteer association based in northern Italy.

The organisations said they feared many refugees and migrants were struggling because activities such as face-to-face support sessions have been suspended.

"The internet is not the best tool to support asylum seekers," said Campaini.

"Many are isolated due to xenophobia and growing homophobia, and our meetings represent an important moment to build and maintain interpersonal bonds."

Matteo Pagliara, president of Camera a Sud, located in Puglia Region, the heel of the boot-shaped country, said the biggest challenge is for this population "not to feel lonelier and more marginalised".

He hoped a multilingual telephone service Camera a Sud has set up with local authorities in Puglia's three main provinces would encourage many to seek medical and other help.

"Now, more than ever, helping those who have always had difficulties in accessing health services, both for linguistic and cultural reasons, can be decisive in winning the battle against Covid-19," he said.

(Reporting By Thin Lei Win @thinink, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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