The second-biggest Italian city is offering a monthly payment of 350 euros ($376) to every resident willing to host a refugee, or an asylum seeker, in their home.
The city of Milan announced Monday with a post on its Facebook page that soon local residents will be paid for giving shelter to one or more refugees.
"Several local families have already stepped forward to offer shelter to the people that are seeking asylum and have been granted international protection, fleeing war and persecution," the city said in its status update.
Candidates can apply until January 15, and in order to be accepted, "families will take part in a training course and will be interviewed by a psychologist who will evaluate the motives, expectations and willingness of every family member, as well as their compatibility with the person they could be hosting at home."
Diverse famiglie milanesi si sono proposte per ospitare chi richiede asilo ed è titolare di protezione internazionale,…
The experimental program is funded by the national government as part of a broader network called "System of Protection for Asylum Seekers and Refugees" or SPRAR in its Italian acronym, which houses around 20,000 people throughout Italy according to government data. The hosting period is six months, but can be extended.
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Pierfrancesco Majorino, who heads the city's department of Social Policies, was quoted in Italian media as saying that he is "proud" of the programand that it is an "economical way" of helping refugees. That's not what many on Italy's right wing say, though —Matteo Salvini, the leader of the xenophobic Northern League party, said the measure is "sheer madness," and that it's a form of "racism against struggling Italian citizens."
"They offer 400 (sic) euros to Italian families who decide to host a migrant, but if those same families were in need of financial assistance, they would never receive 400 euros from the government," said Luca Squeri, a member of parliament for billionaire former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's party.
Several unofficial projects have already sprung up to help welcome migrants and refugees. Refugees Welcome Italia was created in December. It is linked to the international network Refugees Welcome, founded in Berlin in 2014 to "help asylum seekers and refugees find accommodation with local families."
The Milan project isn't the first of its kind. In the past few months, major Italian cities including Bari, Trieste, Parma and Genoa started similar programs. In Asti, a small city in the northern region of Piedmont, "at least 50 of the 62 families that are currently hosting a migrant are foreign," said Alberto Mossino, director of PIAM, a non-profit organization working with migrants and refugees.
"It's often easier to welcome refugees in families of second-generation immigrants, or among immigrants who have lived here a long time, rather than among Italian families," Mossino said. "Italians often withdraw from the program, because they have high expectations, but in reality hosting [a migrant] is much more complicated."
The Italian Ministry of the Interior also warned people that hosting refugees may backfire for both parties. "Goodness without preparation may be risky both for the asylum seeker and for whoever hosts them," said a source within the ministry who spoke with the Huffington Post. The government would rather "create a solid network to welcome [migrants and refugees] that doesn't let private citizens bear the brunt of providing assistance."
In fact, the families involved in the hosting program will be supported by local authorities and by a number of private NGOs. That's because "migrants need help navigating the bureaucratic process to obtain their refugee status. They also need psychological assistance because many of them suffered traumas. They ultimately need expert professional figures," said the ministry official.
Follow Leonardo Bianchi on Twitter: @captblicero