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Project July 15, 2016

Rome at a Crossroads: Italian Identity and the Refugee Crisis


Basilica of Santa Maria
After terrorist attacks in countries like Paris and Belgium, armed guards have become permanent fixtures in tourist-centric areas of Rome. Soldiers patrol here outside the Basilica of Santa Maria, one of the oldest churches in the city. Image by Amanda Ulrich, Italy, 2016.

Rome, a city at the forefront of the European refugee crisis—yet fueled by a strong, singular cultural identity—is at a crossroads. What happens when thousands of refugees, with their own cultures, backgrounds and languages, pour into Italy and challenge the quintessential Italian way of life?

Rome, Italy's capital, has a highly divided approach to dealing with asylum seekers who arrive on the country's southern shores and travel north.

The Italian government has been relatively welcoming to refugees as compared to many other European countries, and in the past two years Italy has approved high numbers of asylum cases. Once refugees are granted protection, however, Italy's lack of adequate social services means that stable job and housing opportunities for refugees are almost nonexistent.

With constant waves of new refugees also comes a dangerous tide of negative public opinion in Italy. The Northern League, an anti-immigration party that used to be viewed as extremist, is rising in popularity among Italians. After terrorist attacks like the ones in Paris in November 2015 and in Brussels in March 2016, the fear of newcomers is grabbing hold of Italian citizens.

Amanda Ulrich follows the refugee crisis from Rome and examines how Italy has responded to the unprecedented human migration.


teal halftone illustration of a family carrying luggage and walking


Migration and Refugees

Migration and Refugees