“Support should be carried out ‘with’ asylum seekers and not ‘for’ them”

Wed, 27/03/2019 - 11:10


Interview. We spoke to Dolors Calvo, head of the Ampara refugee support programme by the Fundació Apip-Acam.

Dolors Calvo is an educational psychologist and head of the Fundació Apip-Acam, an organisation which describes itself as an “artery of services and projects to resolve human needs and social justice”. Calvo currently directs a programme by the name of ‘Ampara’, designed to develop comprehensive tailor-made integration itineraries for people applying for or benefitting from international protection.

Her extensive career in social support has provided her with a multi-disciplinary overall understanding of the situation of people her organisations helps.

Your support programme for refugees started in 2016, but you’ve been working with migrants for a long time.

Yes, since the first waves of migration early in the 1990s. The Fundació Apip-Acam is made up of two associations, each with over thirty years of experience in housing and labour insertion for people in vulnerable situations, among them migrants and newly arrived people. So, it was a natural step to join the group of organisations making up the state reception system for people seeking international protection, when the need for this service increased across the whole country.

What do you offer refugees?

We start with the view that to start an inclusion process and a new life project there must be two premises: having a home and a job. Firstly, they are assigned a place in a shared home from the 77 places we have in Barcelona (in Catalonia we have 330).

After that they receive support in everything that can help them gain knowledge of their new contextual reality, with learning the language and accessing the world of work, but also with looking for their own housing. This is because six months after getting onto the reception programme they must be ready to go into independent housing. In this second stage we carry on giving them professional support and guidance in the process to become self-sufficient and integrated. We’re helping over 240 people in Barcelona with this stage right now.

What differences are there between the migrant groups that you help and refugees?

Some of the support could be the same as for any migrant, but there’s also a series of different needs which require special support for accessing basic services, healthcare, education, job training, and a response is also needed for a specific collective whose basic rights have been violated.

“When they are taken in by organisations like ours they display various fears over new situations, misgivings about information received and distrust in systems”

In most cases people have suffered human rights violations in their country of origin and also on the journey to the host country. When they are taken in by organisations like ours they display various fears over new situations, misgivings about information received and distrust in systems, meaning specialised intervention and psychological support is needed.

You consistently mention comprehensive support. What are you referring to?

We provide comprehensive itineraries which help them pursue a life project in our country. It’s support which takes into account everything in the lives of the people we help, from their previous experiences to how they’re integrating in the city. By that I mean every case is unique for us. We offer personalised support, because each person or family has different needs, and fortunately in Barcelona we have a huge number of services available for all sorts of diversity.

“We have to take into account everything in the lives of the people we help, from their previous experiences to how they’re integrating in the city”

Our work consists of connecting them to existing resources, organisations and specific services. For instance, with LGBTI people there are specific services they can benefit from, over and above our own support with the state programme. Support for refugees (and in fact for everyone) should be carried out ‘with’ them and not ‘for’ them. That doesn’t take away from the fact we also offer group sessions on topics of general interest to the collective, such as legal matters relating to their situation.

In any event, the main challenge for us in reception is informing people about what they can find with the state system, the city they live in, and most of all balancing that with the expectations they have.

You’re an expert on the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation. How does the foundation approach it?

We’ve been working with the problem of prostitution and the trafficking of women since 1987, although the term ‘trafficking’ wasn’t used and specific programmes weren’t started until 2009. Obviously the first task is detection. To achieve that, we get closer to women whose rights may have been violated, we observe and try to identify certain indicators which confirm trafficking. We offer them different services, especially healthcare, and we try to create bonds of trust so that we can help them.

We also have support centres in the streets, the Cabíria centres, where women themselves go to get information and help if they know who we are through other women.

And within this group, have you come across women who are unaware of the possibility of requesting asylum?

Yes. It’s a group who are generally so vulnerable that they haven’t got information about their rights or most of the services they could access. If we detect a person who is, or has been, subjected to human trafficking for sexual exploitation, we help them in the application process and everything that involves.

Many requests for international protection are turned down. Do you carry on providing support after that?

Throughout the support itinerary, for the eighteen months (twenty-four in cases of maximum vulnerability) of the state reception programme, we try for them to see us as a point of reference. The bond created allows us in many cases to integrate them on other programmes by the foundation or provide them with support through collaboration from other territorial services if their request is turned down and they still need help.

You told us that since your teacher training you wanted to work in the field of social justice. Is that what you’ve always done?

Yes, I’ve always been certain that the situations people start off in are not equal and very unfair for many. We have to work to change that. I’ve always worked in social support, initially with people with functional diversity. That was when I realised that the most extreme vulnerability combines disability with being a woman and in many cases is linked to sexual abuse. Later I started working in the area of trafficking of women for sexual exploitation, and from there onto the international side of things, specifically asylum.


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