Trieste, an Italian border town, started dealing with immigration challenges as early as the 1990’s. In 1993 it was one of the first towns to launch a non-governmental network of reception structures for refugees coming from Bosnia Herzegovina and neighbouring areas involved in the Balkan conflict, and then in 1998 for refugees from Kosovo.

In 2001 the positive experience acquired by local organisations was used as a basis for establishing the Italian PNA (national plan for refugees reception) – a pilot project launched by UNCHR and ANCI (the Italian association of municipalities) in 63 Italian towns, which was then turned into art. 32 of law n° 189/2002 of the National Asylum Seekers and Refugees Protection System (SPRAR), which also capitalized on the Trieste experience.

SPRAR is a network of local bodies, which avail themselves of the support of the tertiary sector in order to work out programmes for the reception of asylum seekers and refugees entitled to international protection and humanitarian help. The Municipality of Trieste has been a partner in the programme since the beginning, and it is now offering to accommodate 119 people.

In the past Trieste used to be the destination of those who fled from the Balkans, and now it still is the nearest safe place for people who leave the devastated areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq along the Balkan route. It is also a transit town for Eritreans and Syrians before continuing their journey to Northern Europe. Already in 2011, during the so called Northern African Emergency, it was decided, at the local level, to avoid setting up a reception system parallel to SPRAR, to reject hotel accommodation for asylum seekers and to try establishing an organized approach as opposed to one based on temporary emergency actions.

At the time this was made possible thanks to an Agreement between the Trieste Prefecture and one of the SPRAR partners, the non-profit civil society organisations ICS (Italian Consortium of Solidarity)- Refugee Office. According to the Agreement, ICS would directly accommodate some asylum seekers in proper apartments while guaranteeing support in contacts with local services and legal protection to those who were accommodated in hotels.

Later on, the further deterioration of the socio-political context in the MO caused a constantly growing flow of migrants (even before the “boat emergency” occurred) for which the local SPRAR soon appeared to be inadequate and insufficient.

At the beginning of 2013, random and unorganized arrivals were so numerous, as to lead to massive presence of “homeless” asylum seekers on our territory.

By December 31st 2013, up to people 202 people were not taken over by the organized reception system (SPRAR). By May 31st 2015, this number increased to 638, and reached as much as 723 by September 16th 2015 (data from the Prefecture). A same trend is recorded in the number of applications submitted by asylum seekers in our Province, which went from 417 (2013), to 914 (9 Sept. 2015).

In order to enforce the Italian law ensuring the immediate protection of asylum seekers and in an attempt to avoid unsustainable expenditure, in April 2014 the Prefecture of Trieste, together with the Municipality of Trieste, signed a new agreement with 2 non profit civil society organizations (ICS-Refugee Office and Trieste Caritas Foundation), entrusting them with the task of finding and managing accommodation for refugees in private facilities, upon their own responsibility.

This meant that the local asylum seekers and refugees reception system had to make, in a short time, a leap forward in quality in order to meet the new challenges posed by the rapidly increasing number of refugees in Italy. Our strategy aims at implementing a reception plan that offers people in condition of utmost uncertainty the same level of response, with equally trained and numerically sufficient staff, which characterizes ordinary and well structured reception systems.

With this rational approach, once again we avoid setting up a “parallel” reception system characterized by a temporary and emergency character. The Municipality of Trieste bears the ultimate responsibility for reception and protection of all asylum seekers on the territory, be they included into by SPRAR or not, because of shortage of facilities. The Municipality therefore aims at properly organizing as soon as possible those actions that are now having an emergency character.

Description of the initiative

Based on the Agreement signed with the Prefecture, the Municipality of Trieste has organized an extraordinary reception plan for asylum seekers who were not included into SPRAR. Such plan has actually anticipated innovative aspects of recent Italian regulations (decree n°142/2015, in force from 30th Sept. 2015, which transposes into Italian legislation EU Directive 2013/33/UE – 2013/32/UE, and divides the reception system into two stages:

  • First aid and assistance to be given at the points of landing or arrival, and primary reception to be provided in proper facilities, either already existing ones or to be created following a Ministerial Decree, or else, if necessary, in “temporary” facilities;
  • Secondary reception, to be provided by the SPRAR system.

The objective of the Agreement is to implement a plan for an organized, ordinary reception system for asylum seekers not accepted by SPRAR.

The available reception facilities are meant to shelter needy asylum seekers until the moment they can be included into a SPRAR project, or else until their application procedure is completed and they are entitled to international or humanitarian protection and therefore eventually included into a SPRAR project. Asylum seekers or people who are already granted asylum are integrated into the SPRAR system according to the chronological order of their arrival and submission of application, with the exception of cases deserving priority because of particularly vulnerable conditions. Despite the large number of people to be sheltered, housing is provided as much as possible in small places (usually regular apartments in urban areas) to avoid creating special “centres” or resorting to hotel accommodations. Through the involvement of organizations that already have qualified experience within SPRAR, the Municipality takes the commitment to provide , within the limits of available space, reception of asylum seekers referred by the Prefecture, guaranteeing them the following services, at a cost of € 35,00 per head, per day:

  1. Accommodation and meals , including breakfast, lunch and supper; food is in accordance with religious habits and possible medical prescriptions.
  2. Administrative services :
    1. guests registration ( personal data, recording of identification documents, date of arrival to and exit from the programme, possible days of absence;
    2. keeping a log book with daily signatures of all guests;
    3. immediate communication to the Prefecture and to the Police Headquarter in case guests leave the facility;
    4. they remain entitled to reception provided they return within 3 days.
  3. Cleaning of the premises where guests live including:
    1. daily and periodical cleaning of premises and furniture;
    2. periodical disinfection and disinfestations;
    3. garbage collection and disposal;
  4. Provision of the following items:
    1. sheets and blankets, including their periodical change;
    2. underwear and garments adequate to the climate, with periodical change, in order to ensure hygiene and decency;
    3. personal hygiene products;
    4. pocket money amounting to € 2.5 per day, up to a maximum of € 7.5 per family per day, given according to daily presence recorded on log book and upon receipt signed by the recipient;
    5. a telephone card with € 5 credit, given upon arrival and then renewed every month;
    6. public transport tickets, where necessary.
  5. Support to integration:
    1. general information about the rules and behaviours to be observed inside the facilities;
    2. cultural and linguistic mediation;
    3. information about laws regulating immigration as well as explanation of rights and duties of immigrants;
    4. accompanying guests to territorial health services or hospital;
    5. information and help for the submission of application for international protection.

Implementation of the initiative

Partners in charge with services are the same as in SPRAR (ICS and Caritas) and standards on reception and legal-social protection are the same for all applicants.

Each new application of asylum and reception is immediately reported to the Police Headquarter and the Prefecture. The Prefecture will notify the Municipality, which, through ICS and Caritas, will assign applicants to the relevant centre, if capacity is available, or will find accommodation as soon as possible.

There is no minimum or maximum number for applicants: the system adapts to actual needs. A number of essential services are provided immediately, i.e. access to food and public baths and healthcare support.

The Prefecture provides a daily list of asylum seekers in the territory and submits SPRAR applications to coordinate transfers depending on availability.

When local SPRAR has some availability, priority is assigned to those who have obtained a protection and, subsequently, to those at the top of the list, i.e. applicants that first submitted their asylum applications. The prerequisite for SPRAR access is an individual interview to avoid temporary access for those who, once protection is obtained, intend to move elsewhere to find a job or to be with their families or to achieve personal projects.

Services in the emergency system are the same as in the SPRAR system: healthcare support, language tuition, legal advice, career guidance, personal support.

All asylum seekers are first accommodated in hotels. Subsequently are gradually transferred to more appropriate housing units or centres to support local interactions, i.e. to support a wider reception in small or medium-sized apartments in the urban area.

To provide the above reception services, the two organisations use their local networks and any available resources: public authorities, private organisation in the social sectors, training centres, legal experts and advisors, schools providing Italian course, etc. Similarly, as the Municipality of Trieste is the implementing actor of reception and protection actions for all applicants at local level, the Administration can also include small projects in the emergency systems, such as projects financed by the Friuli-Venezia Giulia Region. These aim at promoting short pre-integration, reading and writing and basic-skill development schemes for applicants not included in SPRAR, which can also been implemented when applicants stay in the territory for up to three months, and that may also be used when they move elsewhere.

Resources dedicated to the initiative

Financial sources

daily amount for each guest to cover the costs of the services under the Agreement: 35,00€  .


Number of asylum seekers and refugees reached by the initiative: 560 out of 3.170 present in the region

  • Thanks to steady planning and monitoring on local actions, the number of applicants that Trieste can fully manage has increased substantially since 2013;
  • At the beginning of 2013, the system included 35 refugees; now, as a result of proper implementation and review, the city of Trieste alone can receive 560 asylum seekers plus 119 applicants under SPRAR (0,34% of local residents);
  • The Agreement on the reception of foreign asylum seekers temporarily in the territory of the district of Trieste covers 563 asylum seekers, hosted in 41 housing units and in 26 other centres plus 80 beds in a large reception centre;
  • The emergency reception system has become an extension of the regular system, though it should be an earlier step, with the same service and professional standards;
  • Data are collected through monitoring performed by associations, the Municipality and the Prefecture;
  • At the end of October 2015, there were 3.170 asylum seekers and refugees in Friuli-Venezia Giulia (0,26% of local residents); the Trieste province is the smallest province in the region (2,70% of the total surface) and it has a percentage of 0,34% on the total of its residents.

Therefore, this is evidence of the outstanding efforts in terms of organisation and planning of actions that this Administration has made in recent months in cooperation with the relevant authorities, ICS and Caritas.

Critical success factors

  • Over the years, the reception approach has transformed into daily actions, which in other parts of Italy is still viewed as temporary, urgent and critical;
  • There is an awareness that the current issues in the asylum national system are not a temporary emergency that sooner or later will be over: it’s a new scenario requiring new actions in the short and mid-term;
  • A temporary emergency system has been ruled out; instead, a comprehensive system has been implemented under the responsibility of the Municipality, which is the main actor for local reception and protection for all applicants irrespective of the status of their reception procedures;
  • Agreements on reception of asylum seekers who are already in the territory have been drafted assuming that the Municipality and local SPRAR actors, ICS and Caritas, are involved to provide applicants with the same services as under SPRAR, well before this was required at national level by the Home Secretary (8 January 2014);
  • This has resulted into a timely response to reception needs of applicants that have not yet been included in SPRAR, with protection standards that are as close as possible as the ones in SPRAR;
  • This Administration had found this action model as absolutely beneficial, effective and applicable at national level, or at least in middle-sized urban areas;
  • Trieste model shows that the streamlined use of resources may result into a smooth mechanism, leading to an increasingly comprehensive work and to an approach ensuring that each invested cent is immediately spent to ensure a fair, decent and future-oriented reception, not only to the benefit of applicants, but also for the reception system as a whole.

Biggest obstacles

  • The overall Italian regulations are still inappropriate and it still may take too long to complete all the asylum procedures and SPRAR inclusion; in particular, due to the generic reference to the launch of the application procedure, applicants may have to wait in the first reception or temporary reception centres even after the application submission or after the notification of the date for the Commission hearing or, worse, after the hearing;
  • SPRAR under capacity, the temporary unavailability, resulting into longer waiting times in collective centres and/or in first or temporary reception centres well after the above procedures may become a significant obstacle to SPRAR access. If, during the time which is strictly necessary to access secondary reception, applicants obtain some form of protection recognition, – SPRAR access, i.e. access to “asylum seekers that have already submitted their applications”, may be denied on a permanent basis;
  • Therefore, there’s a continued risk that resources, time and energies are focussed on waiting times, not on actual reception: for an indefinite and dangerously long period of time, asylum seekers may be received in such conditions preventing the launch of any individual scheme;
  • Planning issues, resulting from extremely uncertain conditions on reception in collective and/or first or temporary reception centres can only be off-set if the risk shifts directly on the organisations of the private social sector, which, however, are in a position to take such risk only if the relevant institutions, i.e. the Municipality and the Prefecture, ensure timely payments, which is not always feasible;
  • In a future perspective, Decree no. 142/2015, enforced on 30 September 2015, does not affect the principle of voluntary participation to local authorities to the reception system; therefore, SPRAR may not have a sufficient capacity to host all applicants from first or temporary reception centres;
  • SPRAR ensures a uniform response, the same standards, trained staff in a sufficient number to individuals who do not have the same resources nor certain or planned resources, and this entails a responsibility that some may not be willing or able to take.



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