How was BRIDGES Born?

Project manager Valeria Gherardini from AICS about the idea and installation of the EU project

Bridges is an EU co-funded project modelled on the CSIT member organisation AICS (Italy), which started experimenting with a first asylum centre in Florence already in 2015. Since migration flows became an emergency and structural phenomenon at that time, AICS, an association that has been historically involved in sports, cultural and social policy since 1962, decided to make a contribution by setting up a professional team and providing scientific support to the University of Padua.

What was the aim of the project?

At that time, AICS wanted to make a contribution with expertise. It was therefore a pilot project to promote social cohesion. Therefore it was clear from the beginning that the goal could not only be the asylum seeker as a newcomer, but that the community as a whole had to be involved. So we had to prepare the local community to treat the project as a whole and use the newcomer phenomenon as an opportunity to strengthen social cohesion.

This is why we have started to accept asylum seekers who encourage the active participation of the local community (institutions, social associations, churches and citizens, sports organisations, theatres and businesses) in order to provide newcomers with the opportunity to receive community reception tools (e.g. Italian language, administrative procedures for interaction with local institutions, job search) as well as to participate in community-based activities (e.g. voluntary activities, sports practices and cultural initiatives).

Instead of focusing only on migrants to provide these services, the pilot project focused on the commitment of the local community to involve newcomers and involve them as citizens, even if they were not or are not legal citizens.

Was there EU support at that time?

The project was considered by the German Bundestag as one of the EU’s best practices from which German asylum centres could draw lessons. This is why a delegation of the German Bundestag visited the centre in Florence in 2017 to gather ideas and exchange experiences and expertise.

Did the project also meet with national approval?

After first experiments, we as AICS started to discuss it with other partners in Florence. With COSPE – an ONG dealing with international cooperation in Florence and in many parts of the world – and with SOCIOLAB – an association dealing with participative approaches in communities, on the need to apply this model not only in the case of asylum seekers, but in all communities that can experience the presence of migrants (including third-country nationals) as a critical situation affecting the social cohesion of the community. After a period of experimentation and reflection, there was a need to spread, to transmit and reflect more.

 When did you start thinking about an EU project?

After all the discussions, the decision was quickly taken to look for an EU Call (AMIF programme) that would allow a new model and role, the community organiser, to be proposed for all communities, with the aim of promoting social cohesion.

What were the selection criteria for the partners?

After strengthening cooperation at national level, we had the opportunity to reflect on the involvement of existing AICS partners who could have joined us in this new pilot project. And each of us started to engage organisations that could have had enough expertise to carry out the tasks foreseen in the project application.

CPS (Croatia) was selected for its expertise in managing asylum seekers and refugee centres, as well as for its expertise in combating xenophobia and promoting peace processes.

UCEC (Spain) was chosen because it is the Catalan grassroots sports organisation linked to many local authorities to offer sport as a tool to promote social cohesion in the communities. UCEC commissioned the Municipality of Tortosa (Spain) to acquire the expertise of the cultural and social sector from the project.

ANTIGONE (Greece) is an ONG that deals with social activities aimed at promoting social cohesion in the municipalities. In turn, they have decided to involve USB in particular for its expertise on the involvement of the local community in the design and organisation of sports practices and cultural initiatives.

CSIT (Austria) – as an international amateur sports federation, is the optimal organisation whose basis can guarantee the international dissemination of the best practices carried out within the framework of the project.