A view from Stignano. The villages in the Locride’s area, in the souther Italian region of Calabria were almost abandoned. The traditional way of living was being lost and young people were migrating in the north leaving these villages empty and at risk of dying 

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THE WORLD IS A SMALL TOWN

(but it's under threat)


In the late ‘90s the medieval historical town of Riace, like many others in the Locride's area in Calabria, was about to die. Inhabited only by old people living by their pensions, this hilly south Italian town was about to perish. Than in 1998, a boat crowded with Kurdish refugees landed in the nearby coastline, changing the course of history. The people of Riace offered them food and shelter, and some citizens, such as Domenico Lucano, who became mayor in 2004, started to dream about a different concept of town: ‘Città Futura’ (future city), a project of integration for refugees to repopulate the town and create a culture of hospitality and exchange. With the beginning of the SPRAR project,  government funds arrived to Riace, allowing the administration to set up again shops and ateliers, employing both asylum seekers and local people, in jobs such as copper and glass laboratories, farming and breeding, constructions and education. Migrants could live in the house abandoned by those who left to work in the North, benefiting local people too with jobs and rents. Riace’s model inspired nearly 60 other towns in Calabria, which developed similar model. To name but a few: Camini, Gioiosa Jonica, Stigano, Caulonia. Than in 2016 investigation over the project of Riace resulted in the block of the fundings. The town was paralysed.

With Matteo Salvini becoming 'Ministry of Interior' with his anti-migration stances, Lucano was arrested in October 2018 for having celebrated a ‘white marriage’ between an Italian and a migrant. Thousands of people marched in solidarity with the major who declared himself to be victim of ‘a crime of solidarity’. Salvini declared Riace’s model to be over and some refugees and asylum seekers had no options but to leave. Some months later, in a conflicting political climate, the list of Mimmo Lucano, lost the elections. In the meantime, a new cooperative has been created to restore Riace's welcoming project, and the former mayor is finally back to his hometown after being exiled for 10 months. In the nearby villages, such as the one of Camini, the project has been reproduced and developed in ambitious and effective ways. Camini is now one of the Italian town with the highest percentage between refugees and local people and is implementing entrepreneurial solutions to constitute a lasting successful project, through festivals, workshops, Erasmus + projects and human corridors. 

NOSTRA CASA è IL MONDO INTERO


Il declino, la rinascita, l'entusiasmo, l’utopia, l’arresto, il ritorno, un futuro da ricostruire. Riace, il paese della Locride arroccato su aridi colli che svettano dinanzi alla costa ionica, non si è risparmiato le emozioni forti. Negli anni Novanta rischiava la morte per spopolamento. Il mondo rurale di antichi mestieri e tradizioni era svanito, lasciando nulla al suo posto. Molti abitanti emigravano al nord e all’estero, per trovare migliori opportunità professionali e così Riace si addormentò, in un sonno dal quale avrebbe potuto non svegliarsi più. Almeno finché nel 1998 un’imbarcazione piena di esseri umani, in fuga dalle violenze al confine tra Turchia e Iraq, arrivò a Riace Marina. Erano quasi tutti curdi, un popolo senza stato, vittima degli schemi geopolitici del Novecento. Si trovarono all’improvviso accolti da una comunità ospitale, che mise a loro disposizione le case in disuso e s'impegnò a dar loro sostentamento. É questo l'inizio dell'utopia di Riace e del tre volte sindaco Domenico Lucano, e del sogno di una piccola città dove si potesse recuperare la cultura delle tradizioni, incontaminata dal capitalismo e dal consumismo dell’attuale società. Il sogno di Riace è diventato così un progetto di avanguardia del programma di accoglienza diffusa, lo SPRAR (Sistema di protezione per rifugiati e richiedenti asilo), adottato oggi altri sessanta paesi della Locride. Un anno fa, il 2 Ottobre 2018, il sindaco è stato messo agli arresti domiciliari con l’accusa di favoreggiamento dell’immigrazione clandestina e illeciti nell'affidamento diretto del servizio di raccolta dei rifiuti. Qualche giorno dopo l’arresto, migliaia di persone si radunavano sotto la sua dimora in segno di solidarietà, gridando “Riace non si arresta” e “Mimmo libero”, per far sentire la propria vicinanza all’uomo che un paio di giorni prima, al tribunale di Locri, si era definito “fuorilegge per umanità”. L’aria a Riace ha cominciato a farsi pesante, perché erano in molti a rimetterne da questa situazione: i locatori che non ricevano più i pagamenti degli affitti, la gente locale che perdeva un lavoro, i rifugiati che ottenevano il pocket money soltanto di tanto in tanto. La pressione ha cominciato a farsi insostenibile, la città si è divisa, la sua splendida energia creativa è stata affossata. Le voci di un matrimonio combinato tra una richiedente asilo, la quale domanda era stata rigettata tre volte, e un cittadino di Riace, confermate dalle intercettazioni telefoniche, hanno inchiodato Lucano. Qualche settimana dopo è arrivata la disposizione del ministero dell’interno: Riace deve chiudere. Gli ospiti del progetto Sprar hanno dovuto accettare una nuova destinazione o rimanere a Riace, rinunciando però ai fondi del progetto. In molti sono partiti, qualcuno è rimasto, mentre in paese, come uno spettro, è tornato il silenzio dell’inizio anni Novanta. L’amministrazione comunale guidata dal vice sindaco, sotto i riflettori dei media, ha cercato di ricomporre la frattura creatasi con la popolazione locale, stremata economicamente dopo che il taglio dei fondi del progetto ha bloccato un’economia che piano piano era stata rilanciata grazia all’accoglienza. Ma alle ultime recenti elezioni, la lista di Mimmo Lucano è stata sconfitta da una lista civica vicino alla Lega di Salvini. La “città dell’accoglienza” creata da Lucano ha subito un colpo durissimo, nonostante il Tar abbia ora riammesso Riace al sistema SPRAR. Nei paesi vicini intanto, l’esperienza di Lucano è stata utile per creare nuovi progetti, come quello di Camini e della cooperativa ‘Jungi Mundu’, che ospita circa ottanta persone tra rifugiati e richiedenti asilo. A Camini il sogno di Riace è ancora vivo e ha preso diverso forme, assumendo una connotazione più imprenditoriale che politica grazie all’attivazione di importanti progetti europei e internazionali. Camini è oggi uno dei paesi in Italia con la più alta densità tra rifugiati e abitanti. In un clima politico critico verso i progetti di accoglienza, questi paesini della Locride cercano ancora di portare avanti l’idea di una comunità visionaria che vuole resistere al vento dell’intolleranza che si è abbattuto anche su queste colline che costeggiano il litorale calabrese e non ancora smesso di sognare.

In 1997 when the boat ‘Ararat’, filled with refugees from Kurdistan landed in the coast between Badolato Marina and Santa Caterina dello Ionio. The major of Santa Caterina refuse to deal with the refugees, but the mayor Gerardo Mannello decided to give them shelter. His fellow citizens opened their houses to cope with the emergency. One year later another boat arrives nearby, in Riace Marina with a few hundred refugees from Kurdistan. The citizens of Riace opened their houses, giving the start to a project of reception that has inspired the whole world. 

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One of the migrants who is returning home in the old city of Riace, Calabria. A symbolic currency was created so that the migrants spend their bonus only inside the town. In Riace both the migrants and the locals have benefited of this program.

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The signal at the entrance of Riace with the different nationalities of people living in it.

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A religious procession in the village of Camini, located 3km far from Riace. Camini has a population of about 300, and host almost 100 refugees.

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A kid received through the SPRAR project in Riace, with his mum on the old town of the city that at the Nineties was about to die, because of the ageing population and the migration of most young people.

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In Riace some refugees are also living since years out of the project. This allowed young boys to grow up together.

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A Nigerian girl walking towards the Pentecostal church for the mess given by pastor Victor.

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A Sunday gospel celebration on the ‘salvation evangelical church’ of Riace, October 7th, 2018.

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Mohammed from Mali and Afissiata from Ivory Cost on the day of their wedding on October 9th. Mohammed is deeply touched and sad that his parents are far away and could not be with him on this special day. Afissiata was previously living in Riace and met Mohammed in Caulonia, who was received in the SPRAR (protection system for asylum seekers) project of Caulonia. Caulonia, like other 60 small town in Calabria has adopted 'the model Riace', to receive migrants and save these almost abandoned villages from death. 

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Kassai from Eritrea is feeding donkeys on the didactic farm in Riace. He is in Riace since 3 years and a half, in Eritrea he was working as a mechanic. He didn’t got paid about his job in the last 3 months, however he is hopeful that he will. He does not know what will be about the future of Riace. He is ready to leave if the project brought forward by the major will be thwarted.

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Thanks to the reception program of the SPRAR program (protection system for asylum seekers and refugees), the city found life again. Now the migrants are about 350 in Riace, but in the previous years they were up to 700, almost half of the entire local population.

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Domenico Lucano, mayor

“I have been an activist and a member of Autonomia Operaia when I was studying in Rome. I always wanted to come back to my home town to live and work.

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Kolli from Gambia is being thought by Teresa from Camini how to make bread in the oven

with the traditional way. Before the reception project the oven was broken and abandoned. He was reconstructed and now is being used almost every day. 

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Until the beginning of 2017, life was going well in Riace. People had jobs and many refugees and asylum seekers were involved in activities and atelier, such as the one of copper and glass, where Hare Gu from Eritrea and Maria from Riace where working. With the beginning of the investigation in Riace, the SPRAR funds were cut and Domenico Lucano and his administration had to look for private funds to sustain the project he had struggled to created in the last years. After months of efforts, Riace had to capitulate. The ateliers were closed because there were no money to sustain them anymore 

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Domenico Lucano, mayor of Riace speaking at the telephone in his home while he is staying under house arrest, in relation to allegations of aiding illegal immigration.

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Aboubakar Soumahoro, syndacalist who has follow closely the case of the murder of Soumaila Sacko, 29from Mali killed on 2 June 2018 in a shooting in the Aboubakar Soumahoro, syndacalist and activits, protesting with other about 5 thousand people against the arrest of Domenico Lucano on October 6th. Aboubakar had closely followed the case of Soumaila Sacko, 29 years old syndacalist from Mali killed on June 2nd after a shooting in the tent city of San Ferdinando in Reggio Calabria.

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Domenico Lucano showing the left fist to the crowd that have gathered outside of his home to show him solidarity after his arrest on October 6th 

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On Monday November 5th, the guests of the SPRAR project were given the new destinations where they will be moved. They could decide whether to accept the new destinations or to stay in Riace without funds. 64 out 74 of them decided to leave. 

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Guests of the SPRAR project of Camini and local people during ‘Camini Community Retreat’ a project organised to favoured integration through dance, yoga and other activities.

 

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Guests of the SPRAR project of Camini and local children having dinner during ‘Camini Community Retreat’ a project organised to favoured integration through dance, yoga and other activities. 

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Filmon Tesfalen arrived in Italy in September 2013, as a refugee from Eritrea. When he lost the right to international protection, he was given a job by the cooperative 'Jungi Mundu' where he works on agriculture and constructions.

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Presis during a visit at the nearby village of Placanica. For for the whole Locride, what is happening in Riace is a ring alarm. The fear is that the government is willing to give up with this experience that in Calabria was successfully applied as a working process of integration and relaunch of the local economy. The new law on migration drafted by Interior Ministry Matteo Salvini goes in the opposite direction of these projects, changing completely the way the SPRAR are working, reducing the funds and the people entitled to take part on its project. 

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