All over the world, we are struggling to adapt to the ‘new normal’ brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a consortium with 25 project partners and 19 supporting partners in 10 European countries, we wanted to ask our stakeholders about the impact of this ‘new normal’ on the lives of immigrants and what it means in terms of local development.

‘New Normal in MATILDE Migration’ interview series continues with the Metropolitan City of Turin, from Italy.

The territory of the Metropolitan City of Turin (CmTO) is the largest metropolitan area of Europe by extension and number of municipalities It includes 312 municipalities and much of them are located in rural and mountain areas (For more details: Classification of MATILDE Regions). The promotion of the economic and social development of the territory is among the main purposes of the metropolitan administration, as well as the protection and enhancement of its cultural identities.

Monica Barlotta, ‘Communication, Relations with territory and citizens Department’ Department officer and Fabiana Stortini, external collaborator of the Metropolitan City of Turin answered our questions on the effect of COVID-19 on migrants living in rural and mountain areas. They emphasized that the pandemic has negatively affected the lives of migrant communities on multiple sides, as well as the one of local population. But still there is hope for a better, more inclusive future.

As Metropolitan City of Turin (CmTO), how has your work with migrants changed after the spread of COVID-19 and the following emergency measures?

Monica Barlotta

Fabiana Stortini and Monica Barlotta: Many of its 312 municipalities of CmTO are located in mountainous or hilly areas. The role of CmTO about migrant integration has not been defined by law but based on its competences in other policy areas that affect this process, such as equal opportunities and social policy, education and vocational training or development of mountain and rural areas.

When the pandemic first broke out, it created a delay in the implementation of the activities related to projects concerning migrants in these fields; so it was necessary to modify or postpone the planned activities.  Despite this difficult context, local authorities have created a new desk in order to inform and guide the guardians of unaccompanied minors.

On our territory, there is a Metropolitan information hub for fight against discrimination, which also analyzed the calls to obtain ‘food vouchers’. Although most of municipalities gave priority to the resident population, others have followed the principle of non-discrimination and thus, vulnerable people such as migrants, weren’t excluded. In this case local administrators are unable to meet everyone’s needs, due to the increase of people in poverty.

What are the common challenges faced by migrants and refugees living in Turin in times of pandemic? How do they differ from the ones of the local population?

Fabiana Stortini

F.S.&M.B.: The challenges that migrants and refugees face are numerous, particularly because migrants often deal with the state of irregularity, discrimination, job insecurity and unemployment.

Due to the less stable and lower employment conditions, the vulnerability at work is rising. During the pandemic, migrant workers, especially those working in the agricultural sector, became more vulnerable to further exploitation due to deterioration in working conditions and increased daily working hours.

Also, migrants deal with a greater risk of contracting diseases, including COVID-19, due to the overcrowded contexts, poor sanitation conditions, lack of medicines and access to health facilities. There was a delay in access to health services, diagnosis and treatment in migrant population; this caused a higher hospitalization rate.

Moreover, another issue that we can emphasize is the distance learning method in schools, which is more difficult to access for immigrant students who do not always have technological devices. Furthermore, integration activities for children have been slowed down or stopped by the lockdown; we are afraid that this would have a negative effect on children’s lives.

On the other hand, some of the difficulties that migrants face such as informal work, youth unemployment and increased inequalities, tend to be similar for the Italian families with low income.

What about the migrants who are living in urban areas? Do you recognize any positive or negative aspect of living in a rural and mountainous region?

F.S.&M.B.: The number of people infected by COVID-19 is higher in urban areas than in rural and mountain ones; because of the high density of population, pollution and mobility of people.  After all, living in a rural or mountainous region can be good way to promote new lifestyles and sustainable economic activities. Due to the increasing depopulation and average median age, there is the need to bring new ideas, innovations and services to revive these areas.

Looking to the future, what long-term impact do you think the situation triggered by COVID-19 will have on the population of Turin?

F.S.&M.B.: The pandemic will probably have long-term effects on the population of our territory in different levels. On psychological and social level, we say that there will be an increase in psychological problems related to anxiety and depression, particularly in health professionals and in people who already had mental health problems or other discomforts often linked to the loss of job and/or housing.

On economic level, people who were already at risk of poverty before the pandemic are now suffering more than others. Those migrants most affected by the pandemics are the one involved in essential sectors, like elderly care, agriculture etc.. Also,  sectors like tourism, clothing and footwear industries and trade sectors seem to face long-term negative effects.

Fragile economic and social conditions will mainly affect vulnerable groups like children, young people and women. Young people will suffer from unemployment or intermittent work. On the other hand, women who are more involved in the elderly and children careduring the pandemic, will not be rewarded adequately in their work.

In the end, we hope that pandemic will also have some positive effects: for example, this situation might be a good opportunity to reshape the social, environmental, cultural, economic system as a whole, in a more inclusive and better way.