The “students” are asylum seekers and participating in a boot-camp style one-year programme whose explicit purpose is to integrate migrants.
The school whose name translates as Academy of Integration Thank you Bergamo, hosts 35 men aged 18 to 40, all of them, except one Pakistani, from African countries – Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Ivory Coast.
Participants attend Italian-language classes, get internships at factories in the area and have to follow a strict routine.
They also have to do community service work for free.
The municipality of Bergamo runs the project, in collaboration with the Catholic non-profit organisation Caritas and the local branch of Confindustria, Italy’s association of entrepreneurs.
Active since September 2018, the academy shares a building, once a retirement home, with the Centre for Extraordinary Hospitality, CAS, a facility that hosts regular asylum seekers.
Only one door separates the two facilities, but the atmosphere between the two organisations could not be more different.
In CAS, asylum seekers can move freely in the corridors, pass their time in their rooms, and use their smartphones as much as they please.
The academy’s students can only use their smartphones for a few hours a day. For the best part of the day, their rooms are empty, with perfectly made beds. No language other than Italian is allowed. And they look more like cadets than students.
They must always wear a uniform and have three kinds of outfits.
When they are inside, it is a blue tracksuit with the words “Grazie Bergamo” in large print on the back; the second uniform is orange, similar to waste collectors, and also bears the words “Grazie Bergamo” in large print; the third, worn in free time, is a blue shirt and grey sweater with a small school logo, which also allows them to take the city’s public transportation free of charge.
Stefano Quadri, an activist from the Bergamo migrante antirazzista group, an anti-racist organisation, objects to the idea that migrants need to prove they deserve to be hosted, since asylum is a human right, and says free labour “destroys the local economy”.