New Voices for Refugees in Italy

Adam Kersch in Sicily, May 2014

Adam Kersch in Sicily, May 2014

Italy has long been an access point to Europe for refugees escaping from deteriorating political conditions and lack of economic opportunities. Influx of refugees from North African and the Middle East has dramatically increased in recent years after the political upheavals in Tunisia and Libya, driving asylum-seekers to pursue Italian shores in rickety boats across the Mediterranean Sea. UCF’s Master’s student in cultural and medical anthropology, Adam Kersch, has been conducting research this summer in Italy on this topic, and his observations and experiences from his work have been published by the Orlando Sentinel on June 24, 2014 in the article titled, “Aid falls short for refugees in Italy: New Voices”.  Click here to read the Orlando Sentinel article.

Adam’s research focuses on the experiences of refugees arriving across the Mediterranean to Sicily, as they flee poverty and political conflict in their countries of origin. His research interests are inspired by the memories of his own family’s experiences as refugees. Upon hearing the stories of people from Libya, Tunisia, Syria and other nations seeking a better life and a safe haven in Europe, Adam was immediately reminded of his grandparents’ stories of flight and survival as they fled Yugoslavia and Romania during World War II to seek safety in the United States. From this inspiration, he began to develop a graduate research study focusing on the plight of refugees as they arrive to the Italian refugee centers.

Working with Dr. Joanna Mishtal as his thesis chair, Adam designed an independent research project, consisting of fieldwork in Sicily in the summer 2014 and spring 2015. In order to conduct an anthropological project involving in-depth interviews, Adam has been learning Italian at UCF as an undergraduate anthropology major, and continues to advance his skills during the graduate program.

The analysis of local policy interventions for refugees in the asylum-seeking process in Sicily is Adam’s primary research focus. During the summer 2014, he went to several key locations that are refugee receiving areas along the coastline of Sicily to conduct preliminary fieldwork and to establish a fieldwork site. As a result, he secured a research partnership with ARCI Non Governmental Organization in Siracusa, which legally represents refugees in asylum cases in Sicily. In the process of establishing his research site he was able to speak to several refugees seeking asylum in Sicily as well as become involved with ARCI’s work in helping explain legal rights to refugees. Striking to him was the fact that aid to the refugees with regard to social services, health care, housing needs, as well as employment and legal support, has generally been inadequate as provided by the European Union and the Italian state, making it necessary for groups such as the ARCI organization to fill in the gaps in services and support to this vulnerable and growing population.

Adam will return to Sicily for three months in January 2015 to complete his research for his Master’s thesis, and plans to publish his findings in a peer-reviewed anthropology journal. After completing his Master’s at UCF, he plans to pursue a PhD in Anthropology and continue working with refugees in Sicily. His career goals are to maintain an active research agenda in an academic position, while also engaging in advocacy efforts alongside nongovernmental organizations working on behalf of refugees in Italy.

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