EU – Turkey Civil Society Dialogue on Cultural mediation and volunteering to assist refugee arrivals (Milan, 23-25 November)





2.5 Day EU-Turkey Exchange visit to Milan: discussing the role of volunteering and cultural mediation within refugee service provision in mixed migration contexts



Click here to download the conference programme, here for the background paper on cultural mediation and here for the full conference report.

Milan, 23-25 November 2016 – Human Resource Development Foundation (HRDF) and ICMC Europe hosted a third EU-Turkey civil society dialogue conference and working visit in Milan, in collaboration with local partners Consorzio Communitas and Consorzio Farsi Prossimo. The aim was to discuss challenges, opportunities and approaches to volunteering for refugees and delivery of social and integration services, and, in particular, to explore the use of cultural mediation activities in Turkey and the EU.

The conference was organized as part of the project “Refugee Protection and Service Delivery Dialogue – Strengthening Partnerships to Respond to Syrian Refugee Needs” (referred to as the “Refugee Service Dialogue Project”) led by ICMC Europe and Human Resource Development Foundation (HRDF) as part of the Civil Society Dialogue programme. The project is a follow up of the ICMC Europe SHARE project, designed to strengthen partnerships between European cities and civil society with regard to refugee integration in Europe.

A host of European experts were invited to present in Milan on volunteering and cultural mediation activities, including the city of Antwerp (Belgium), Caritas Biella (Italy), Coventry Refugee & Migrant Centre (UK), Dutch Council for Refugees (NL) Red Cross Bulgaria and Red Cross Croatia. Turkish participants included civil society and representatives of local authorities in Ankara, Eskişehir, Hatay, Istanbul and Şanlıurfa.

Alessandra Camporota from the Italian Ministry of Interior gave an introduction to the refugee context in Italy: she explained recent developments such as the introduction of a national distribution key, new admission programmes, the civil society initiative “Humanitarian Corridors” and the Italian government’s plans for a national integration law and strategy. To promote understanding of the Italian context with regard to refugee arrivals by boat, Luisa Bianco from the UNHCR duty station in Sicily presented recent figures on  boat arrivals (as of November 164,695 arrivals and 4,271 deaths have been documented so far in 2016).  She went on to explain the role of cultural mediators in providing interpretation and ensuring mutual understanding between the UNHCR Legal Associate and asylum seekers upon arrival during the information provision on international protection and early identification of persons with specific needs.   

Dr. Lorenzo Rocca from the Language Policy Unit of the Council of Europe provided an overview of the concept of linguistic and cultural mediation developed within the LIAM project (Linguistic Integration Adult Migrants). In addition, he introduced conference participants to the toolkit for volunteers, which was created by a team of linguistic experts to provide language support to refugees within the frame of the LIAM project. The kit will be piloted in February 2017 in Italy, and consists of more than 70 tools to support language provision to refugees by volunteers. Its final version (in French, English, Italian, German, Greek and Turkish) will be available online for practitioners to download as of summer 2017.

Partner HRDF introduced its work at the Syrian Refugee Services Center in the Istanbul Esenler district, which provides assistance and psycho-social support to vulnerable Syrian refugees (many of whom are women with small children). HRDF also introduced participants to the various cultural activities, legal advice and referral services that it is providing to clients. The Refugee Service Dialogue Project piloted a volunteering programme at the Esenler centre to expand services for refugees by working with universities: the aim of the pilot was to inform students about volunteering opportunities and to raise awareness of refugee protection needs. (For more on HRDF work with Syrian refugees, click here to access the full presentation).

Representatives from European and Turkish NGOs and city authorities presented their work on engaging student and refugee volunteers in the field of refugee reception, social services, labour market counselling and cultural mediation. European expert organisations explained the different ways in which European volunteer programmes are managed and coordinated and how refugee volunteers are recruited, trained and supported. The meeting ended with a practical session at a SPRAR reception facility in Milan where participants were introduced to volunteer practices for asylum-seekers on-site, and where HRDF presented its volunteer strategy defining the role of volunteers within the organisation.

For more information on the Refugee Service Delivery project contact Project coordinator Magdalena Boehm (ICMC Europe) at