How communication supports integration, community engagement and migration governance in Milan
By Cosimo Palazzo
Since October 2013, more than 130,000 asylum-seekers have chosen Milan as a transit spot towards other European cities or as a safe place where restarting their life. Several reception facilities were created throughout the city, and the Municipality of Milan decided to play a positive role in managing the reception of asylum-seekers and refugees. Reception centres can have a significant impact in a neighbourhood’s life, and only local administrations have the capacity to ensure that these complex dynamics are well governed.
To this end, it is essential to create conducive conditions in the public opinion. To do so, we operate on two different levels.
First, the City of Milan manages directly the reception and integration activities at local level. This allows us to be part of the decision-making processes and structures regarding the reception and social inclusion of asylum-seekers and refugees. To this kind of activity corresponds a factual communication by the local administration to the city, through facts on the ground and by being directly involved in the integration processes.
The second level is represented by political communication. Our administration is never tired of reaffirming its view of Milan as a city without border, a welcoming city, including on recurrent public occasions, such as a yearly event during which the whole city declares its commitment to inclusiveness and anti-discrimination.
It all started in 2017, when the “Together without Walls” initiative was organized under the auspices of the Municipality of Milan for the promotion of solidarity values and positive narratives in the public debate around migration. The initiative included a joyful parade on 20 May 2017 joined by 100,000 people, who sent a clear message of support for refugees and migrants’ reception and inclusion. In 2018, the “Together without Walls” initiative organized an entire month of public meetings, conferences, cultural events all focused on migration and integration and their positive effects on the society, the economy, the cultural debate. The participation of foreign communities, representing nowadays an essential part of the Milanese society, was impressive. This year, on March 2, more than 200.000 people participated in the “People first” march, the third citywide event dedicated to inclusiveness, and the most impressive in terms of participation. “People first” means rejecting racism and standing up for non-discriminatory and more courageous social policies. This yearly event is becoming a reference point for the identity and positioning of Milan about integration.
Both levels of actions and communication are indispensable and need to be carried out in a coordinated manner. They can’t be separated and need to be constant over time.
Thanks to the link between them, it also became possible to develop shared mechanisms of service management in the city neighbourhoods. Since the beginning of our emergency reception programmes for asylum-seekers and refugees in 2013, much was done by volunteers and civil society. From that moment, a network of various entities and individual citizens (including volunteers, doctors, paediatricians, third sector associations, organisations working with children, etc.) came together and grew also into a communication network, which contribute to promote positive narratives among citizens.
Thanks to those experiences, we understood the importance of the activation of volunteering in the neighbourhoods, which produces ownership and consensus. This consensus needs to be constantly fostered by the local administration and the whole city, so that those who wish to sustain integration feel supported and become stronger than those who oppose it.
A lawyer expert in immigration law, Cosimo Palazzo has been working since 2011 at the Municipality of Milan, for which he has coordinated the Social Policies Multiyear Programming Plan and the subsequent process of reorganisation of the Social Policies Department. Having obtained an Executive Master in Management of Public Administrations at Bocconi University of Milan, he has been Director of the Social Emergencies, Rights and Inclusion Area of Milan Municipality since 2017.
In his capacity as Director, he promotes and manages the reception services for asylum-seekers, the integration of beneficiaries of international protection, the inclusion of resident foreign nationals, as well as the integration of homeless people, Roma and Sinti communities. He also directs a centre for the professional integration of vulnerable people, the social inclusion services for detainees and the coordination of the city services to fight gender-based violence and human trafficking. Since 2013, he has been directing WeMi, the new access system to the welfare services of the City of Milan (wemi.milano.it).
LinkedIn: Cosimo Palazzo