The small village of Riace, in Calabria Italy has reached worldwide attention through its innovative approach to dealing with refugees and asylum seekers.
In 1998, 200 Kurds fleeing the Turkish-Kurdish conflict landed on a beach near Riace. Instead of watching them get packed off to one of Italy’s holding centres, Domenico Lucano – a former school teacher and currently mayor of Riace, organised the community which decided to offer them abandoned houses in the village.
Domenico Lucano (left) is currently the mayor of Riace.
Bahram Acar is stilll living in Riace. He was among the first Kurds who arrived in Riace in 1998.
The mayoral office.
The village of Riace gives about 200 asylum seekers housing and support for the period when they have applied for their asylum application until they receive the answer, which usually takes about 6-12 months. For this period they receive free housing and a daily living allowance. Once they have received their asylum decision, they are free to stay. However, they do not receive any more financial support and free housing.
Locals admit that goodwill towards migrants is partly linked to the government funding they bring – €25 to €30 per migrant per day – and the social service jobs they generate. The village has introduced a special local currency, accepted in all shops, cafés and restaurants in the village. Each asylum seeker is free to chose how he spends his daily allowance.
About 200 refugees have found an income opportunity and have chosen Riace as their definite home. This has helped to revitalise the local economy. The local school has reopened, small shops can survive again, and tourists flock to Riace in the summer months to see how this experiment is working.
A number of artisan workshops have opened. This Afghani woman has been working in this workshop for the past three years.
The project has a strong anti mafia connotation, which can be seen through the numerous anti mafia graffiti all over the village .
Most asylum seekers, however, are not lucky enough to spend their first 6-12 months in a town like Riace (there are different small towns implementing similar systems).
Most of the asylum seekers are left to fend for themselves. Many pass at least once through Rosarno … and Italy has many “Rosarno’s”.