Italian integration “boot camp” forces migrants to do free community work, sing the national anthem and wear “thank you” printed clothes

Saturday, May 4, 2019
By Paul Martin

By EMMA R.
VoiceOfEurope.com
3 May 2019

At the mayor-founded academy in Bergamo, a group of about 30 uniformed migrants form two neat rows, hands behind their straight backs in a military-style “at ease” position.

In the corridor of a building, they repeat in chorus: “We are the students of the first course of the Accademia dell’Integrazione Grazie Bergamo, Thank you Bergamo”.

Then they break ranks, line up two by two and move to a larger room, where two of the students, wearing white aprons, begin serving lunch.

The “students” are asylum seekers and participating in a boot-camp style one-year programme whose explicit purpose is to integrate migrants.

Participants attend Italian-language classes, get internships at factories in the area and have to follow a strict routine.

They also have to do community service work for free.

The academy’s students can only use their smartphones for a few hours a day. For the best part of the day, their rooms are empty, with perfectly made beds. No language other than Italian is allowed. And they look more like cadets than students.

They must always wear a uniform and have three kinds of outfits.

When they are inside, it is a blue tracksuit with the words “Grazie Bergamo” in large print on the back; the second uniform is orange, similar to waste collectors, and also bears the words “Grazie Bergamo” in large print; the third, worn in free time, is a blue shirt and grey sweater with a small school logo, which also allows them to take the city’s public transportation free of charge.

“This is not a school for everyone”, Giorgio Gori, mayor of Bergamo, a wealthy city in northern Italy, about 50km east of Milan, told Al Jazeera.

It’s no place for slackers, he says, because participants “must respect a series of rules of cohabitation” and professional training is mandatory, “with the aim of getting them to a job”.

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