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IMMIGRATION

Asylum seekers strut their stuff on Italian catwalk

Asylum seekers from Mali and Gambia strutted down the catwalk on Thursday at Florence's prestigious Pitti Uomo exhibition, kicking off an initiative to school would-be migrant fashionistas in Italy's top art.

Asylum seekers strut their stuff on Italian catwalk
Asylum Seekers modeled clothes at a fashion show in Italy on Thursday. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In a fashion world first, farmers and construction workers who made the perilous journey by boat to Italy in May took centre stage in Tuscany's capital, modelling everything from sharply-tailored suits to tasselled jumpers and outlandish hats.
   
Despite initially appearing a touch overawed, they pulled off the trademark model walk – one even shooting the cameras a smouldering look worthy of a supermodel as he stopped to pose at the end of the runway.
   
The men, aged between 19 and 27, who could not be identified for legal reasons, were handpicked for the show from their reception centres by the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative, which mentors young emerging designers from Africa.
   
“As we are in Italy and have a huge refugee crisis we also want to show that migrants are a resource,” EFI head and founder Simone Cipriani told AFP backstage before the event, which featured four collections by African stylists.
   
“We are setting up a training centre for refugees and migrants in Italy to work in the industry of fashion and be enabled to go back home and set up their own businesses there,” he said.
   
The project is being launched with Lai-momo, an Italian association which raises awareness of migration issues and since 2014 has been involved in running a series of reception centres in and around Bologna, in Italy's centre-north.

'Asylum seeker in a suit'

Five long-legged men with chiseled jaws were chosen from the centres for the fashion challenge, with two taking part in a photo shoot on Wednesday and three walking the catwalk in a converted warehouse, along with professional models.

Nigerian-American designer Wale Oyejide, whose Ikire Jones brand plays on a juxtaposition of African figures and classical Western art, said working with the debutants had been a perfect way to illustrate his fashion philosophy.
   
“Clothing is just a vehicle, I'm much more interested in discussing these issues… of migration, of borders being crossed.
   
“If I take an asylum seeker and put them in a suit, people perceive them in a certain way, which hopefully allows them to think of them as an equal human being, not as someones less than them,” he said.
   
As two of the first-time models apprehensively took their seats in the make-up studio, the third was given a one-to-one tutorial in how to speed up his swagger to match the pumping beats of the catwalk.
   
Lai-momo president Andrea Marchesini Reggiani said the plan was to tap into the Made in Italy resource to tackle one of the greatest problems plaguing those waiting for their asylum applications to be processed: boredom.
   
“It's very difficult to work with migrants today, it's very difficult for them to integrate, because their numbers are very high and we are faced with a very deep economic crisis,” he said.
   
But while many of the 140,000 migrants who arrived in Italy in 2015 are stuck doing nothing in centres, “we already have small-scale collaborations with guests who are skilled in couture or design.
   
“The idea is to develop those skills in a dedicated laboratory, and maybe even produce garments as well,” he said.

WORK PERMITS

Swedish parliament to vote on raising minimum salary for work permits

Next week, the Swedish parliament is due to vote on a proposal to raise the current work permit salary threshold from the current level of 13,000 kronor a month. The government and the Sweden Democrats have proposed raising it to around 33,000 kronor a month.

Swedish parliament to vote on raising minimum salary for work permits

The proposal would raise the maintenance requirement for work permit applicants from outside the EU, the Nordic countries and Switzerland – and it looks likely to pass, as the three government parties, along with the Social Democrats and the Sweden Democrats are in favour of the move.

The current proposal was put forward by the former Social Democrat government, and after discussions in the social insurance committee, it was clear that a majority of the parliamentary parties are in favour – only the Left Party, the Greens and the Centre Party are against it.

“A higher maintenance requirement is a welcome step on the path towards a system that curbs cheating and fraud and focuses on highly qualified labour immigration,” migration minister Maria Malmer Stenergard told TT newswire in a written comment.

The Swedish framework for work permit immigration has been described as unique. In contrast to most other countries in Europe which are specifically aimed at highly educated immigrants, Sweden accepts all immigrants who fulfil the requirements despite their education or profession.

The number of labour immigrants to Sweden has also increased substantially. So far this year, over 50,000 applications have come in, of which 38,000 have been approved. Labour immigrants represent the majority of immigrants in Sweden.

It’s also unclear when the change in legislation could become law. No date is given in the proposal, but the suggested date of implementation is “the day the government decides”.

Another element which is not yet clear is exactly how high the salary threshold will be. This will be decided in a separate regulation, which is planned to come into force at the same time as the new law.

Sweden’s Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard has yet to say what the new salary threshold will be. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

“The goal is to introduce the new maintenance requirement as soon as possible, and we will give more information on the exact limit at a later date,” Stenergard told TT.

In the Tidö coalition agreement, the government and the Sweden Democrats state that the salary threshold should be the same as the average salary, which is currently around 33,000 kronor a month.

Seasonal workers, such as berry pickers, will not be affected by this proposal.

Further tightening up of labour migration laws are also expected in the future. For example, the government wants to investigate if certain professions – such as personal assistants – should be banned from getting work permits. Stenergard has also announced that the so-called ‘track change’, where asylum seekers can switch to other permits, such as work permits, will be abolished.

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