In recent weeks the QCEA blog has reported on policies that have led to further marginalisation of some people in our societies, and violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. However, the pandemic has also activated a sense of solidarity among many of us. Let’s look at some examples from Italy and Slovenia.
Italy has been one of the worst affected countries in Europe. The UN Refugee Agency and ARCI, the Italian cultural association, set up a specific web platform to provide information to non-Italian speaking residents about the COVID-19 measures taken by the government. Created in mid-March, the platform includes guidance for financial contributions, information on new rules and regulations and an interactive map displaying services for refugees and asylum seekers. It is available in a wide range of languages, such as Chinese, Somali, Spanish and Wolof.
At the regional level, civil society organisations and healthcare providers have been working more closely together. From April, in the southern region of Calabria, mobile teams – made up of doctors and cultural mediators – are providing assistance to homeless asylum seekers. They provide information about COVID-19, distribute hygiene kits, as well as examine cases of suspected infections from Covid-19.
Mobile teams started to perform similar activities in the city of Rome and in the Pugliaregion. In Rome, an additional team assessed the psychological and financial needs to provide more sustainable support. Following successful NGO advocacy, the regional administration distributed food and set up public water taps in the city of Foggia.
Italy has also given us examples of solidarity between marginalise communities. In April, a group of prisoners detained near Milan donated more than 1000 euros to the Italian Civil Protection. In addition, they collected and gave more than 200 kilograms of food to food banks in the Lombardy region which was redistributed to families in need. Similar actions followed from other detention facilities in the country.
The QCEA blog recently reported on human rights abuses in Slovenia, but the country has also experienced a boost to social solidarity.
The NGOCaritas has distributed food and hygiene supplies to more than 14 thousand households. They have also helped families in financial distress to pay utility bills and provided assistance to relatives of people who had to leave care homes. In addition, Caritas organised a telephone helpline for people suffering mental stress during the confinement.
The Advocate of the Principle of Equality in Slovenia highlighted some examples of solidarity towards the homeless community: several Slovenian towns decided to offer basic services to those without a residence. In the capital city of Ljubljana public restrooms remained open and additional shelter facilities were added; in the municipality of Nova Gorica, homeless were provided with daily hot meals plus overnight stays; in the municipality of Tržič, a dry cleaner offered free laundry for the most vulnerable group.
Lastly, a group of Slovenian businesses – in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport – provided computers and tablets to enable disadvantaged students to take part in distance learning.
Look what we can do when we recognise that we live in community with others. After the pandemic, the challenge will be to seek to understand the deeper causes of injustice and inequality, and find new ways for all of us to work together to bring about a compassionate society which allows everyone to develop their capacities and fosters their desire to serve.
Alice Pineschi is an international affairs analyst and a graduate of the University of Siena.