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Riace immigrants forced to leave after 20 years

November 15, 2018
topic:Refugees and Asylum
tags:#immigration, #Riace, #Italy, #human rights
by:Federica Tedeschi
All immigrants will be evicted from Riace, an Italian town which received international praise for its integration scheme.

The order comes from the far-right Minister of Interior Matteo Salvini, who is well-known for his anti-immigration views, and follows a series of recent events which have deeply affected the lives of the multicultural village’s inhabitants.

Most of the over 300 immigrants previously living in the southern Italian town have already left their homes over the last few weeks, while Riace’s mayor Domenico Lucano, who has dedicated the last twenty years helping thousands of newcomers, is currently living in his car in the surrounding area. He was forced to leave Riace on 17 October, after having been held under house arrest for two weeks, but refused to settle anywhere far from his town.

The integration model set by the ‘idyllic town’ is known internationally and has enchanted German film director Wim Wenders, who produced the short documentary ‘Il Volo’ (The Flight) about Riace shot in 3-D (The UN Refugee Agency).

Mr Lucano, who was included in the list of the 50 most influential leaders worldwide by the American publication Fortune, was arrested on suspicion of aiding illegal immigration, particularly by arranging marriages of convenience. He was also accused of allocating the town’s collection services to two companies which were not requested to go through the usual tender process (La Repubblica).

During a live interview on the ‘La7 Attualità’ channel shortly after the 2 October arrest, Domenico Lucano¸ whose partner is an Ethiopian lady, defined himself ‘embittered but confident about the future’.

‘I spent the last twenty years welcoming immigrants in Riace. It all started by chance in 1998, when a boat carrying 300 Kurds touched our shores and I decided to give them hospitality. At that time I was not even a mayor and with the help of many locals, I turned the abandoned buildings of the town centre into shelters for refugees’, Riace’s mayor explained.

Soon afterwards Mr Lucano’s efforts developed into a more complex integration project, thanks to the Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR) funds provided under the Government finance law. The funds aim at guaranteeing both ‘integrated reception interventions beyond the simple distribution of food and housing’ and develop ‘programmes to promote socioeconomic inclusion and integration’.

The mayor, first elected in 2004, invested the SPRAR per-person amount to assist the newly-arrived immigrants and pay social workers and various operators, as well as to plan a stable integration model. He was accused to also invest the funds on long-term migrants, rather than focusing on giving first assistance to those who regularly landed on Riace.

‘I couldn't welcome those people to abandon them shortly afterwards. I wanted to give immigrants a chance to build up a brighter future here’, he told La 7.

‘All together we built homes for tourism, a number of craft studios, an olive oil mill, an educational farm and a medical practice office. The programme has also helped to boost the town’s economy and employ a number of local operators and professionals’, Mr Lucano added.

The mayor, who has never been accused of using the funds for personal purposes, had to face the consequences of the SPRAR funds being blocked in August. He cannot, however, forget the continuous solidarity and help received over the summer. Missionary father Alex Zanotelli and his colleague Felicetta Parisi, for instance, spent the hot season in Riace, actively supporting the immigrants.

Commenting on the second accusation, the mayor explained to LA7 how the waste collection management in the whole Calabria region, where Riace is located, is a rather controversial and complicated issue, often linked to local mafia ‘Ndràngheta’. Mr Lucano invested time and money to clean up and improve the town while providing people with long-term jobs.

‘Riace was submerged by waste when I was elected mayor, which is why we created an ecologic island. It is quite saddening to be punished because the cleaning cooperatives we contracted with, were not registered in the regional professional register. It is very likely that record books for cleaning cooperatives did not even exist when our project started’.

The arranged marriage issue was not raised during the interview with LA7.

Around 6,000 refugees have passed through Riace over the years, according to data analysed by history research laboratory Fondazione per la Critica Sociale. While most of them have now moved on, those still living in Riace in October marched against their mayor’s arrest, showing gratitude for all the work that brightened up their lives.

Daniel, one of many immigrants interviewed by LA7 during the protest, explained how he arrived in Riace ten years before begging the mayor to help him find a job to settle there with his own family.

‘I have been working consistently for around 8 years. Mimmo Lucano is always ready to support us in all sorts of situations’, highlighted Daniel.

At present, there are less than 80 immigrants still based in Riace and they will all be forced to move to the ‘SPRAR buildings’ in Roccabernarda, in the province of Crotone, which is 120 km from Riace.

Meanwhile, Mimmo Lucano is willing not to give up and is looking into a solution to restore his integration model.

‘Recent events are hard to explain, however, I would do it all again if it saved at least a life’, he told the press.

This article reports facts as of 6 November 2018.

Article written by:
Federica Tedeschi
Embed from Getty Images
The order comes from the far-right Ministry of Interior Matteo Salvini, who is well-known for its anti-immigration views.
Embed from Getty Images
Most of the over 300 immigrants previously living in the southern Italian town have already left their homes.
Embed from Getty Images
The integration model set by the ‘idyllic town’ is known internationally and has also enchanted German film director Wim Wenders.
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