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In sociology, social integration means a state of substantive and consensual engagement of all the groups and collective individuals within a wider system of institutions, norms, and values.
Recent studies define integration as a complex long-term process of change, which entails a contextualized mutual adjustment and commitment among refugees and host communities (J. Phillimore 2020. Refugee-integration-opportunity structures: shifting the focus from refugees to context. Journal of Refugee Studies. Vol. 34, Issue 2, pp. 1946–1966). Integration has also been defined as a multidimensional and multidirectional relationship (A. Ager e A. Strang 2008. Understanding Integration: A Conceptual Framework. Journal of Refugee Studies 21, no. 2, pp. 168-191), which entails an experience of mutual accompaniment between the refugees and host communities, and between the groups that handle the resettlement project (that is, between Caritas social workers and local communities) (C. Ndofor-Tha et al. 2019. Home Office Indicators of Integration framework 2019. Home Office Research Report 109, UK Home Office).
Integration is at the heart of Pope Francis’ pontificate. In 2018, on the occasion of the World Day of Migrants Refugees, he defined it as a dimension of Christian life, using these words: “Our shared response may be articulated by four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate.
Many of the volunteers and mentor families have made this statement as their own. As one of them said:
"The Humanitarian Corridors provide a different model, not limited to mere acceptance, but which seeks to protect, promote, and integrate" – the verbs [used] by the Pope.

In the Humanitarian Corridors program, integration is the ultimate goal of the program itself: “To foster the integration of the beneficiaries into the local area and local community by providing orientation and accompaniment as they enter the spheres of social, habitudinal, and work life” (Caritas Italiana, “Vademecum for Caritas Social workers,” 2017). For this reason, it was one of the crucial issues for beneficiaries, social workers, mentor families and volunteers, diocesan Caritas leadership, and bishops. They described it to me as a journey, a personal and reciprocal relationship between the immigrants, who must enter into the new society, and the community that receives them, which must be open to getting to know people with a different language, culture, and sometimes religion. In the words of two Caritas social workers:

"What do I mean by integration? The possibility to keep one’s culture, but above all to share it. It’s not losing your roots, because that would make even assisting [immigrants] very difficult, because they can’t just turn their back on twenty or thirty years of their life and start over from scratch. But once they find themselves in a new context, it means having the possibility to share and receive the best of the new community. So, in my view it means, as they say in English, a “melting-pot,” a mutual exchange, in which both sides end up with something more."

"What is integration? Making people with different cultures feel at home, while preserving their own culture. So, it’s being able to have different cultures meet one another, without either of them harming the other, and discovering the beauty of putting them together. Putting the two together shouldn’t be forced. The important thing is for each side to respect the culture of the other and, above all, never to think that their culture is more advanced than the other’s."

In some situations, integration fit into a journey that had begun with earlier projects. One Caritas social worker told the following story:

"We provide a service called “Interculture,” which we’ve been doing for many, many years, where we go into the schools in R. [city]. The schools are full of kids whose parents are from other countries. “Interculture” is the culture that can be helpful for both sides […]. We can’t limit our efforts to providing food and a place to sleep, or work, but to make people feel that they participate in our history, in the structures [of our society]."

For this reason, some social workers, volunteers, and mentor families preferred not to use the word “integration” at all, but instead used “interaction” or “inclusion.” This stresses the need for both parties (host communities and refugees) to get to know and understand the other, so that, in the end, they become a part of one another’s lives:

They need help to understand and accept the rules here, but you should never say, “It’s this way, period,” because that’s not helping people – we’re talking about human beings here. We have to respect their rules, their things, and their religion, too […] I have to respect them. It’s not that, because I can, and because I’m helping you out, you have to do this or that, and do what I say.

"What I think is the hardest part is the personal interaction […] Because interacting with someone enriches you […] Human beings, in and of themselves, as people, in all their diversity, are what enrich me. It’s amazing how much true joy I experience when I sit and listen to their stories about their traditions and how they do things [in their country], and when I see them do them here, as best they can in the new circumstances […] – one in particular: making coffee"


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