Out of Italy's population of 61 million people, around 5 million are immigrants. Most arrived before the current influx from Africa and the Middle East. However, for Italy the immigrant crisis intensified in 2011 with the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, which triggered fresh waves of migrants and refugees.

Italy leads Europe in arrivals by sea, with most people coming from Africa and the Middle East. In the first quarter of 2014, people arriving by sea increased by 823 percent over the same period in 2013. A large number of people seeking refuge planned to move on to other countries like Germany, but now find themselves trapped in Italy by newly reintroduced border controls.

Although the right to healthcare is recognized by law in Italy, migrants, refugees and disadvantaged individuals often cannot access medical treatment due to a lack of knowledge of their rights, linguistic barriers, and difficulties navigating a complex healthcare system. Additionally, because of a climate of widespread fear and growing racism, migrants and refugees often do not turn to public facilities for fear of being reported to the police or other local authorities. On top of this, the economic crisis and cuts to public healthcare in Italy are threatening the fundamental rights of increasing numbers of people.

For these reasons, EMERGENCY started working in Italy, providing medical assistance in migrants, refugees and other vulnerable individuals. Since 2005, we have provided more than 177,000 free-of-charge consultations to individuals who otherwise would not have been able to access medical treatment.

Outpatient Clinics

Because of its strategic location off the coasts of Tunisia and Libya, Palermo, Sicily has served as one of the migrants' first Italian ports. In 2006, EMERGENCY opened an Outpatient Clinic in Palermo to guarantee free healthcare to migrants – with or without residence permits – and to any other persons in need. Our Program in Italy was then expanded in December 2010 with the Outpatient Clinic in Marghera, near Venice; in July 2013 with the Polistena Clinic, Calabria; and in March 2015 with the Castel Volturno Clinic, Campania.

EMERGENCY’s Outpatient Clinics are staffed by volunteer medical personnel who can issue prescriptions for drugs and provide referrals to specialists. Our cultural mediators provide essential services, informing patients of their rights, helping them access services offered by the national healthcare system, and accompanying them to medical examinations at public hospitals. The purpose of the Outpatient Clinics is to ensure that those who are most vulnerable do not fall through the cracks of the system, but fully enjoy the rights guaranteed to them by law.

The more common illnesses, such as skin infections, respiratory infections and musculoskeletal injuries are often the direct consequence of the unhealthy living conditions our patients are forced into: overcrowding, lack of sanitation, and poor electricity supply.

Mobile Clinics

To guarantee timely medical assistance where it is most needed, EMERGENCY operates Mobile Clinics across Italy. The Mobile Clinics operate in areas of extreme social hardship, where access to public healthcare facilities is difficult. These include agricultural areas, refugee and migrant reception centers, and Roma camps.

The first two Mobile Clinics, EMERGENCY’s Polibuses, were obtained by converting two buses into clinics.

In June 2013, two new Mobile Clinics were added to the fleet: these converted minivans bring medical care to farm laborers working on the tomato and olive harvests. At the request of the provincial health authority, one of our Mobile Clinics began providing healthcare services to migrants living in a former school housing roughly 250 people who landed on the shores of the province, many who are unaccompanied minors.

In 2014, we launched two new projects using mobile clinics to provide preventive health advice and guidance to sex workers in the Caserta area.

The doctors and nurses in the mobile clinics are accompanied at all times by cultural mediators who receive the patients, inform them of their rights, help them gain access to public health services and, if they have problems with the language, accompany them for specialist examinations and tests at public healthcare facilities.

Information Point in Sassari

In December 2012, EMERGENCY opened an Information Point in Sassari (Sardinia region), to help migrants and anyone in need to access medical care.

The right to medical care is recognized by law in Italy, but it is often denied to immigrants, foreigners, and to poor people who do not have access to treatment because of their scarce knowledge of their rights, linguistic barriers and the difficulty of finding their way within a complex health system.

Our cultural mediators - here in Sassari as in all of our projects in Italy - offer social-medical assistance to migrants, whether with regular documents or undocumented, and to everyone who needs it. They help them to access mainstream healthcare and other support services, they assist patients needing examinations or tests within public health facilities, they survey the territory to identify critical areas where our help could be needed and cooperate with local associations and institutions.

All the services are offered free of charge