The 4th Edition of the SABIR Festival was held this year from 11th to 14th October in Palermo, Sicily. This is an inter-cultural festival of the Mediterranean regions but it has an important political function in that it celebrates migration and solidarity with migrants.

I was lucky enough to attend as a Board member of Solidar. Barbara and Frederica organised a fantastic day on the Friday of the festival which I was happy to introduce and facilitate. We were hosted in the HQ of CGIL, the Italian Trade Union for our meeting which meant we were able to hear from their staff who work with migrants in Palermo. Our President, Paca Sauquillo, spoke at the opening session on behalf of Solidar and shared a platform with, among others, Leoluca Orlando, the mayor of Palermo who is well known in Italy for welcoming migrants and anti-mafia policies. This is his Wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leoluca_Orlando

We started off the Solidar day with some presentations from Solidar members about their work with migrants. First up were two colleagues from AWO in Germany who described their work welcoming migrants. Colleagues will know that when Germany received high numbers of migrants, citizens themselves mobilised and began to collect clothes and other necessities for the migrants. German language learning was also an important aspect of support. Volonteurope members will also remember the presentations made by Gemeinsam Leben und Lernen from Passau at our last conference and the efforts made by volunteers to give German language lessons. Our second presentation was from La Ligue de l’Enseignement and specifically from the Departement of Pas de Calais describing how volunteers set up L’Ecole laique du chemin des dunes just outside the notorious ‘Jungle’ camp. Schools already existed in the camp but they were organised on faith lines. This was the first school to be created for everyone – young people and adults. Eventually after some lobbying, 3 teachers were appointed by the state to supplement the informal classes going on there. The third presentation was from a colleague from the Czech Republic to talk about their use of the Council of Europe language learning toolkit.

After lunch, we heard from one of the lawyers who works for CGLI specifically on migrants’ issues and the person responsible for the migrant desk. We also had an interesting discussion with a volunteer who coordinates services for women who are trafficked to Sicily from Africa and then often prostituted. We heard a lot during the festival sessions generally about child trafficking and some really dreadful criminal exploitation of vulnerable migrants. We walked out to visit a centre for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in the popular neighbourhood of Ballaro in central Palermo. The centre is run by volunteers and provides a safe space for people to charge their mobile phones, access the internet and get advice and signposting. You can read more here https://www.arcipalermo.it/index.php/sportelli/sans-papiers-del-circolo-arci-porco-rosso We moved on to see a cooperative bar/restaurant started by young entrepreneurs to support migrants into employment. You can check it out here http://moltivolti.org/en/ Altogether a great day – special thanks to Barbara and Frederica!

The festival also encompasses lots of cultural events – concerts, film shows and exhibitions. Here’s hoping I’ll be able to attend next year’s event.