Mariagiovanna Italia is in a hurry. She arranges jewelery and handicrafts on a table in a bustling market in Catania, Sicily's second largest city. Some passer-bys stop to look at the unusual display: purses made of old door handles and African fabrics, ornaments made from recycled copper or discarded furniture, reworked into a wooden souvenir. There are, made by refugees, explains Italia. She is one of the founders of the social enterprise Fieri. The idea: to enable refugees to train and work, and at the same time to fight the garbage problem in Catania.
Mariagiovanna Italia (pictured) hopes that Fieri will help migrants find their place in Italian society
can make good use of such innovative approaches. For over the past five years, overflowing garbage cans and wastes on the sidewalks have spoiled the appearance of the late Baroque city.
Almost nowhere in Italy is less recycled than here. A move by Sicilian President Sebastiano Musumeci at the beginning of 2018 did not change that, claiming that at least 30 percent of waste in Sicily should be reprocessed.
More on the subject:
In October 2018, the recycling rate was only 5.6 percent, says Viola Sorbello, president of the Sicilian branch of the environmental organization Legambiente.
"If we continue like this, the future will be anything but brilliant, because the waste ends up in landfills that are already overcrowded, which causes high costs for the environment and the economy," says Sorbello.
Fieris concept starts right there.
"We thought that we could relieve Sicily of its two biggest problems, garbage and migration," Italia told DW.
More on the subject:
Integrate through recycling
In Sicily, many migrants have arrived on their way to Europe in recent decades, most of them taking the dangerous sea route from North Africa across the Mediterranean.
Their number has dropped significantly recently. According to the International Organization for Migration, around 16,000 people came to Sicily in the first half of 2018. In 2014 there were still 170,000. But the future of migrants remains uncertain.
By 2016, just under half of migrants in southern Italy had a steady job, says the Italian Social Security Institute. About 38 percent of these jobs were in agriculture or fisheries, 30 percent of migrants worked as janitors or in similar jobs, often underpaid and without a permanent job.
More on the subject:
For its report, the institute examined the work situation of migrants from Eastern Europe and from outside Europe and came to the conclusion that since 2011 refugees have been much more affected by the economic crisis than Italians.
Since 2015 Fieri tries to remedy the situation. Some 150 migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa trained the organization in the production of soap, clothing or jewelery, while others received training as a carpenter. In addition, Fieri has several collection points in Catania for waste and other materials suitable for processing.
"We did not just want to create a place that raises awareness of protecting the environment," said Italia. "It's also about providing migrants with a solid basis for what comes after training when it comes to integration."
One who gave Italia and her colleagues a perspective is Saikou Ceesay. The man from Gambia stranded in 2014 after six months in Sicily. In his homeland, the 24-year-old had worked as a carpenter. Today he is one of four employees of Fieri.
"Immigrants from Africa have a hard time finding a job," says DW's Ceesay. "Here we can show the Italians that with the knowledge we bring, we also have something to offercontribute what many Europeans have forgotten by now. "
Ceesay's goal is to open a carpentry workshop in Catania that works exclusively with wood waste.
Fight the stereotypes
Another important aspect of Fieri's work is intercultural encounters, says Italia. One must do something about the growing anti-immigrant mood in the country, especially since the right-wing Lega party in Italy is on the upswing.
, Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister of Italy of the Lega Nord, won many votes with his uncompromising line against immigration.
"Migrants are always the scapegoats in Italy when it comes to making political decisions," says Alessandra Matarazzo, a volunteer at Fieri. "They were even cited as the cause of the increasing pollution, and it is they who are removing the garbage and taking over the jobs that the Italians themselves no longer want to do."
The encounters between Italians and migrants organized by Fieri have encouraged more people from Catania to become active themselves, including Anna Piscopo. It helps to find new markets for the products from Fieri's workshops. And is convinced that such initiatives help to strengthen social cohesion.
"The idea of meeting people at work helps combat prejudice, and many in Italy believe that migrants only come here to get their hands on one another," says Piscopo. "These encounters send a strong signal against it."
Waste becomes art: upcycling in Africa