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Socio-Economic Integration of Migrants through Organic Products: The Context

Each year thousands of men, women and children attempt a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Many of them are trying to escape poverty, climate impact and war in their home countries. From January to December 2015, the total number of refugees and migrants arriving in Italy by sea stands at around 153,850 persons (Italy - Sea Arrivals, UNHCR UPDATE #4, December 2015). Key disembarkation points in 2015 remained Sicilian ports which have been identified as hotspots with 83,017 migrants arrivals (UNHCR 2016). Despite the efforts existing approaches to protection have proven singularly unable to find solutions for long-term displaced populations. Humanitarian responses in refugee situations have been criticised for focusing too heavily on the “care and maintenance” of refugee populations, leaving refugees essentially “warehoused” for years on end, their lives in limbo, with little focus on long-term, sustainable solutions.

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Sicily, at the center of the Mediterranean, has always been a crossroads of cultures and agriculture. It has the largest surface (280,448 hectares) of fertile organic land, the highest number of organic operators (9,888 producers/processors) in Italy (SINAB, 2014) and one of the richest concentrations of biodiversity in Europe. Despite the concentration of abandoned agricultural land, in recent years there has been a revival of traditional methods of agriculture with farmers saving over 40 varieties of wheat.

Sicily still bears the impact of the economic recession of 2008 standing as the poorest region in Italy with 54,4% of Sicilians living below the poverty threshold (ISTAT), and youth unemployment over 40% (ISTAT). The fragile state of the economy has reduced significantly Sicily’s labour market capacity to absorb of the continuous flow of migrant job-seekers. Furthermore this flow obliges Sicilian institutions to deal with their integration while interacting with a range of social, religious and cultural complexities.

In Sicily there is an urgent need for integrated approaches that could support the socio-economic integration of the growing flux of migrants while promoting new sustainable trends to enhance Sicilian local economy. Riace in Calabria has demonstrated how integration of migrants into an existing Italian society is possible. In 1998 when 200 Kurds fleeing the Turkish-Kurdish conflict landed on a beach near the small village, Riace was in danger of becoming extinct with an ageing population. Today a quarter of the population is comprised of immigrants who have been given new homes and a new start in life.