‘Hosting refugees gave me joy’: Italian pensioner

As the Italian government on Tuesday called on regional leaders to find accommodation for a further 20,000 asylum seekers, a pensioner in Rome told of how she has hosted several young refugees, an experience she said gave her “great joy”.

'Hosting refugees gave me joy': Italian pensioner
More than 115,544 people have been rescued by Italian authorities from the Mediterranean so far this year. Photo: Marcello Paternostro/AFP

Misa Chiavari, herself a mother of four, is one of many Italians who have quietly given a home to refugees over the years, La Repubblica reported.

“I welcomed desperate migrants, and today they are happy. They gave me joy,” she told the newspaper.

“I’m not looking for publicity, I just want to let people know that responding to the appeal for solidarity is a wonderful experience.”

Her story comes after Pope Francis on Sunday took his appeal against “the globalization of indifference” forward by asking every parish in Europe to open its doors to a refugee family, adding that the Vatican would lead by example.

That appeal was buoyed by last week’s publication of the shocking image of a drowned Syrian toddler on a Turkish beach.

Citing official sources, Ansa reported on Tuesday that Italy’s interior ministry had issued a circular to regional prefects asking them to host another 20,000 refugees, a request that is likely to stir up more tension in areas like Veneto and Lombardy, which have strongly opposed taking in more.

Chiavari described the young Iraqi and Afghans she hosted as her “extended family”.

She met them while teaching Italian to asylum seekers at the Astalli centre, which is run by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Rome.

Two of the refugees she hosted – Ali and Ismet – were sleeping rough at the capital’s Ostiense station.

“In the winter, along with some other teachers, I went to the station and brought them to my home. There was no trouble and I wasn’t fearful. In fact, they were more afraid of me. It took time to build trust and for them to tell me their stories.”

She said both men now have families and a job – one opened a pizzeria and the other became a carpenter.

“They come to see me, they bring their children, they call me mum,” she added.

“I got out of this experience far more than I put in.”

Refugee care costs the government up to €800 million per year, as it offers private individuals, companies and non-profit organizations up to €35 a day per person to host them. 

From that figure, hosts must give a daily pocket money allowance of €2.50 each. Amici dei Bambini, a non-profit organization, said last week that 300 families had responded to a recent appeal for refugee hosts.

Hoteliers across the country have also become hosts, but not without staunch criticism from the anti-immigrant Northern League party.

Matteo Salvini, the party's leader, denounced those who had “to wait for landings at Lampedusa” in order to fill their hotel rooms.

Meanwhile, the owner of a hotel near Bergamo told police late last month that his 72 guests had received threats.

A day later, a Muslim mayor in the Tuscan seaside community of Monte Argentario provoked an outcry after refusing to accept any refugees, arguing that the town “doesn't have the facilities”.

Read more: Muslim mayor refuses to take in refugees

More than 115,544 people have been rescued by Italian authorities from the Mediterranean so far this year.