Doctors, teachers and artists: The 5,000 Afghan refugees who have come to Italy this year cover a wide range of professional profiles. Recognising the talent of people who enter Italy fleeing wars and persecution is not only a duty but also an enormous asset for our country. Figuring out how this is done, however, is no simple matter.
“Sometimes their qualifications are not readily recognised by the Italian system, but they have great skills and talent: This is why they should be taken into account”, says Francesco Reale, Secretary General of the Adecco Foundation for Equal Opportunities. Refugees are “people who have often faced dangerous situations during the crossing to get here and so are used to dealing with the unexpected and handling pressure, for example“.
Recognition of qualifications
Cimea, the Information Centre on Academic Mobility and Equivalence, is responsible for the recognition of foreign qualifications in Italy and is implementing the EU project European Qualifications Passport for Refugees (EQPR). According to the Lisbon Convention, which became Italian law on 11 July 2002, a foreign qualification may also become valid in Italy and the European Union following a certain evaluation of recognition in the academic, non-academic or professional spheres.
The comparability of the qualification can be assessed through specific tables and, also in case of partial or missing documentation, CIMEA promoted and activated the National Coordination on the Assessment of Refugee Qualifications (CNVQR), an informal network of administrative experts operating within the higher education and training sector who deal with the recognition of qualifications in the most problematic cases. In 2017, CIMEA activated the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees procedure, which, through the development of an innovative recognition procedure, enables the assessment of the qualifications of holders of international protection.
Sometimes their qualifications are not recognised by the Italian system, but they have great skills: which is why they should be taken into account.
Francesco Paolo Reale, Secretary General of the Adecco Foundation for Equal Opportunities
The role of universities
In the academic sphere, there are diverse initiatives in place to foster greater integration of asylum seekers and refugees. Last year, for example, 43 Italian universities adhered to the Inclusive University Manifesto, launched by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, to facilitate access to higher education for persons under international protection and to promote social integration and active participation in academic life in Italy.
Then there is the Uni.co.re project, University Corridors for Refugees. Launched in 2019, it has so far seen the participation of 28 universities that have collectively provided over 70 scholarships over the past three years for the winners, refugees mainly from Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thanks to the project partners, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Caritas Italiana, Diaconia Valdese, Centro Astalli, Gandhi Charity, and a wide network of local partners, the students will receive adequate support to complete their studies and integrate into academic and social life.
Jobs and companies
However, integration is not only about degrees, but also jobs. The Adecco Foundation has been at the forefront on this issue, as demonstrated by the Welcome, Working for Refugee Integration award from UNHCR Italy, dedicated to all companies that have committed themselves to promoting the professional integration of refugees, such as the Adecco Group. “We believe in the importance of diversity & inclusion and are constantly working on this”, Reale emphasises. “Our model involves working with companies and third-sector organisations (we create the conditions and foster dialogue between the profit and non-profit worlds), while trying to facilitate the entry of refugees into the Italian labour market: firstly, they need to be trained to become part of an organisation, as we are often talking about very young people at their first work experience; secondly, we support companies to promote inclusion, which is often not easy to achieve”.
Firstly, they need to learn the rules of our country, as we are often talking about very young people at their first work experience.
Francesco Paolo Reale
One such project was the engagement with “the Milan City Council and the Central Market, which gave people with experience handling fish, a particularly expensive commodity, jobs as filleters. Today, the profession has all but disappeared, so finding these skills is crucial”, explains the Foundation’s Secretary. A similar inclusion project involved Uniqlo, which hired seven refugees in Milan. Partnerships also extend to companies such as Nespresso, Decathlon and Carrefour.
One central issue the Adecco Foundation is working on concerns the integration of women. “Many of them need to find a job to help them support their families, a task they often have to carry out alone. We need to study an empowerment plan”, says Reale.
The value of skills
In many cases, educational qualifications are not everything. “Many refugees do not have valid certificates in Italy and therefore their skills often need to be assessed“, Reale explains, recalling the case of a refugee from Germany who did not have valid qualifications in Italy. “His expertise, however, was more than valid and we referred him to “Modis, a leading technology company, which hired him”.
Going beyond the written curriculum in some cases proves to be crucial. “We believe that more open and inclusive situations often help to bring out everyone’s abilities”, Reale explains. “They are the ones really driving tomorrow’s workforce: diplomas and certifications no longer suffice, since there are often people with an impressive background comparable or even superior to one of a recent graduate. We need a shift in our mindset”.