Pandemic Response Blog

Milan, Italy: Inclusive City COVID-19 Response & Recovery

Located at the epicenter of Italy’s outbreak, the City of Milan worked to build COVID-19 response and recovery plans inclusive of all residents regardless of status and to meet Mayor Giuseppe Sala’s vision for the future of his city — “growth and solidarity” — even in times of crisis.

Direct Services Supporting Migrant and Refugee Communities

The City of Milan adopted a two-pronged approach to tackle the needs of their residents resulting from the health, economic, and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. They worked to ensure equal access to services for all, including migrants and refugees, while also providing complementary services to address the needs of particular communities.

The city created the Milan Helps network (Milano Aiuta, in Italian) to centralize information on available services, and mobilize volunteers, donations, and private sector support for those in need. As a part of this effort, Milan set up eleven food distributions hubs across the city, including a specific hub where fresh fruit and vegetables are collected and redistributed to the other food hubs preparing the food aid packages. Between March and June, Milan collected 600 tons of donated food and distributed 1.6million meals to the most vulnerable residents — reaching some 20,000 people with meals and providing another 15,800 with free food vouchers. Milan created a dashboard and analytics to track and measure the services provided by the Milan Helps initiative, including food aid, computers, online certifications, personal protective equipment, and more. 

Source: Milan Food Policy — Comune di Milano

Adapting to the new reality on online learning and access to services, Milan collected donations of personal computers and tablets to ensure that unaccompanied migrant children maintained equal access to education and Italian language classes. Additionally, Milan developed an online platform with classes and educational materials for migrant and refugee adults, including professional training, and up to date information on the pandemic. 

Milan partnered with the nonprofit EMERGENCY to provide COVID-19 monitoring in shelters for homeless people and unaccompanied migrant youth as part of their “Service Centre for Unaccompanied Migrant Minors” (part of the national SIPROIMI, formerly SPRAR system). Through this joint “Welcome Project”, emergency teams of healthcare and logistics experts conduct daily monitoring in over 50 shelters in Milan. They work to ensure proper social distancing practices and sanitation services, train shelter staff, and monitor the health status of both guests and shelter staff. More information on the project is available in Italian here.

Early on in the crisis, Milan’s “Help Center Central Station” (CASC) deployed Street Rescue Units to map services available to those migrants, asylum seekers, and people experiencing homelessness, and surveyed their urgent health needs. This approach allowed the city to adapt their service delivery and serve a smaller number of people at a time at more locations, limiting the spread of the virus and creating a network that has been effective in terms of containment. This approach allowed the municipality to continue offering services such as free food, shelters for self-isolation, psychosocial services, as well as install public sanitation stations where needed. This action is detailed in the city’s Social Policies Directorate Report on irregular migrants during COVID-19 emergency.

These municipal actions to build inclusive response and recovery and ensure no one is left behind because of their migration status directly support the City of Milan’s implementation of the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) and Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and the city’s February 2020 the pledge through the Call for Local Action on Migration to:

  • Improve cities internal, vertical, and international governance and cooperation;
  • Ensure inclusive economic integration and development,
  • Improve social integration with a focus on: access to healthcare, quality education, and affordable housing; and
  • Protect the most vulnerable migrants and refugees.

Even in times of crisis, the city working to make global goals and local reality.

Advocacy Efforts

Mayor Giuseppe Sala had taken a prominent and personal leadership role globally, advocating to build back better from COVID-19. He launched and chairs the C40 Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force with fellow MMC Leadership Board members, Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr of Freetown, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, and Mayor Valérie Plante of Montréal. On July 15, the Taskforce launched the C40 Mayors Agenda for a Green and Just Recovery. The agenda aims to deliver an equitable and sustainable recovery and calls for action to “support and lift of essential workers…by working with national governments and business to regularize the status of essential workers without personal documentation.”

Joining fellow European mayors, Mayor Sala also called upon the European Union to guarantee cities direct access to funding to address COVID-19 and its impact. Such direct access to international finance is critical for cities’ response to COVID and will enable them to do their jobs better, faster, and at scale.

For more information and to see examples from other cities, visit


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