ROME, June 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rome must help refugees integrate into life in Italy’s capital city, to cut the risk of tensions between communities that could escalate to dangerous levels – and to benefit from the fresh life they bring to an ageing population, officials said.
Welcoming migrants is an important way to strengthen Rome, the city said in a plan to help it better withstand economic, natural and other shocks.
In recent years, Rome has seen a growing number of mainly African arrivals begging on its streets.
The “resilience strategy” sets out ways for the city to cope with stresses - from earthquakes, droughts and floods to poor urban planning and transport, limited internet access, pollution, outdated infrastructure and a surge in refugees.
“(Water scarcity) will result in an increase in migrants. We have to take this into account if we want to develop a long-term strategy,” Deputy Mayor Luca Bergamo said at the plan’s launch.
More than 1.8 million migrants have arrived in Europe since 2014, and Italy is now sheltering more than 170,000 asylum seekers, as well as an estimated 500,000 unregistered migrants.
The influx has come when the country is still recovering from the 2008 economic crisis which squeezed public budgets and private purses.
“As also occurs in other countries, there is a risk of strong social, political and religious conflicts that may escalate into terrorist attacks,” the Rome report said.
Measures should be “planned and introduced” to help ease the strain, such as providing access to housing, training, employment and sport, it added.
There can be important benefits too from the newcomers, officials said.
“Europe’s population is getting older, so for us to accept people coming from outside will improve our lives,” said Luca Montuori, who helped develop the city’s strategy.
“We need each other,” Rome’s councillor for urban planning told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We have only to manage it and not leave it to criminals trafficking people coming from Africa,” he added.
The plan was launched on Monday, just days after Italy’s new government refused to allow a boat carrying more than 620 mainly sub-Saharan Africans to dock.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has vowed to continue to block foreign humanitarian boats from Italian ports.
One way to include refugees in urban life is to house them across the city, as has been done in Athens which rented private flats that had been empty for years, said Lina Liakou, managing director for Europe and the Middle East at the 100 Resilient Cities network, which helps cities develop resilience plans.
“This means families are not housed in special units for refugees, creating ghettos, but are integrated into buildings across the city, creating community and contributing to the life (of the city),” Liakou told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Rome’s resilience strategy, which comprises 58 actions, is Italy’s first, and follows similar plans from more than 40 other cities worldwide.
“These are strategies that ... leave no one behind, while addressing global challenges like migration and climate change,” said Liakou.
Rome, home to 2.9 million people, has experienced flash floods, drought and earthquakes in recent years.
About 250,000 people are at risk of floods, and the city’s coastal suburbs are vulnerable to rising sea levels in future.
The new plan includes building infrastructure to reduce the risk of flooding, and planting more trees to help lower temperatures in the streets.
It also aims to encourage people to recycle more, use cars less, and increase the city’s use of renewable energy.
In addition, Rome urgently needs to improve its waste management system and public transport, and expand its green spaces, vice mayor Bergamo said.
More people should benefit from the city’s income from tourism, and have access to its rich cultural heritage, he added.
Despite the pressures the city faces, Bergamo believes it will adapt to whatever comes along.
“Rome is a resilient city. It was created 2,700 years ago, so it must be resilient,” he said. (Reporting by Alex Whiting; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate)