Luca Pacini / Photo: Teresa La Marca

From cargo ship to catering? Feasible integration paths in Italy

Three quick ones A local refugee integration model combining language and vocational training with work placements gives promising results in Italy.


According to the United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR, some 150 000 refugees arrived by sea into Italian territory in 2015. At the time of writing, in March, the figure for 2016 already stands at over 14 000.

Luca Pacini is Welfare and Immigration Division Manager for ANCI (National Italian Municipalities Association). Elm met him to discuss the role of learning in integrating refugees in Italy. A localized model combining language and vocational training seems to be an effective tool for integration. In the model many of the refugees literally move from the cargo ship into catering, and other roles in local tourism industry.

What is the role of lifelong learning in the Italian strategy for socio-economic integration of refugees?

Vocational training is a foremost strategic tool to give refugees and migrants general and professional skills that are a key element to integrate them here. Training is also key in breaking the segregation mechanisms of the job market.

Nevertheless, refugees still face specific problems due to their lack of language skills. The language gap, together with an uncertain legal status and a lack of a local social network, puts the migrant in a difficult position without social mobility opportunities.

The Italian refugee protection system hence emphasises a combination of language courses and vocational training courses as a tool for either re-qualification or updating of skills, or familiarisation with the work environment. The goal is to increase employability. Internships and other forms of training on the job are efficient tools for that. Information and professional guidance services are also an important part of the programme for refugees’ socio-economic integration.

Tell us more of this “refugee protection system”. How does it work?

We indeed have a National Protection System for asylum seek­ers and refugees (SPRAR) which was set up by the local authorities and NGOs and funded by the Ministry of the Interior. It provides an “integrated reception model”. It is not just a mod­el of “hospitality”. It aims to guarantee the minimum material services necessary while creating “autonomous post-reception processes”. This means that the system tries to create or rather reconstruct a life plan for refugees and asylum seekers in Italy. Ultimately it aims at emancipation of the asylum seeker.

In practice local authorities, cooperating with other public and private organisations, develop local projects for refugees in tune with the local economic, social and cultural context and conforming to the guidelines of SPRAR. The model is quite widely spread. It is in use in 19 Italian Regions and involves around 380 local authorities. Between 2014 and 2016 more than 400 projects for refugees were developed within this system.

According to the guidelines of the model, local authorities have to:

– take into account the previous experience and expectations and wishes of the refugees in planning training and employment paths;

– to support refugees in developing flexible training and labour market participation targets. These should consist of pre-vocational training courses, labour market orientation, career advice and the development of job search skills;

– to find solutions to help recognition of previous qualifications and experience.

Has this system been successful so far?

According to the SPRAR’s Central service, which monitors progress, local good practices seem to be spreading among stakeholders and services have been of high quality.

The majority of local projects (82 %) have provided Italian language courses for 10 or more week hours for each beneficiary and 92 % of beneficiaries have attended those courses regularly.

Concerning access in the labour market, around 90 % of the projects made a local map of job needs and after this mapping 73 % of the projects planned vocational training paths, internships and training on the job. Catering and tourism account for most training-on-the-job activities, followed by farming and handicraft fields.

For the year 2014 we have exact data: during that year the SPRAR projects facilitated around 600 job market insertions; almost one third of the projects registered at least one job insertion in the aforementioned economic fields.

In our experience, programmes combining language courses, vocational training, work placement and job search support gives the best results for the socio-economic integration of refugees!


Three quick ones – One expert, three well-targeted questions.

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