Italy shut­ters tiny town’s land­mark mi­grant model

Gulf Times - - EUROPE -

Italy’s in­te­rior min­istry has or­dered that all mi­grants be trans­ferred out of a tiny south­ern town that had wel­comed them but which trig­gered a na­tional de­bate on in­te­gra­tion af­ter its mayor was ar­rested.

Domenico Lu­cano, the left­lean­ing mayor of Ri­ace, made head­lines around the world for wel­com­ing mi­grants to the sparsely-pop­u­lated town in Cal­abria in a bid to boost jobs and de­vel­op­ment.

But ear­lier this month, he was placed un­der house ar­rest on charges of in­volve­ment in or­gan­is­ing “mar­riages of con­ve­nience” for asy­lum pur­poses.

Known as Mimmo, the mayor has also been ac­cused of skip­ping a ten­der process to award a rub­bish man­age­ment con­tract to co-op­er­a­tives with ties to mi­grants.

His ar­rest was hailed by In­te­rior Min­is­ter Mat­teo Salvini and his far-right League party as proof that the “gov­ern­ment of change has de­clared war on the im­mi­gra­tion busi­ness”.

But it sparked an out­cry from sup­port­ers who say the “Ri­ace model” – funded since the 2000s with Ital­ian and Euro­pean funds – is a sim­ple but ef­fec­tive way to both re­vive de­pop­u­lated villages and house hun­dreds of asy­lum-seek­ers.

The trans­fer of the mi­grants to other centres will be­gin next week, ac­cord­ing to the min­istry, which has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing “clear ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties” in the town’s re­cep­tion sys­tem since 2016.

The state gives small centres €35 a day for each res­i­dent with the bulk of the money spent on pro­vid­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion, food and lan­guage lessons.

A small amount of pocket money is also given to the mi­grants.

Lu­cano said that his lawyers are pre­par­ing an ap­peal against the min­istry, which has de­manded a break­down of all ex­penses.

“How is it pos­si­ble to think of de­stroy­ing the ‘Ri­ace model’, which has been de­scribed by in­nu­mer­able peo­ple, politi­cians, in­tel­lec­tu­als and artists, as an ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­pe­ri­ence?” he asked. “They want to de­stroy us. I am im­mensely bit­ter.”

His mi­grant pro­gramme has seen aban­doned houses re­stored and craft work­shops re­opened in Ri­ace, at­tract­ing tourists, and has been lauded by many as a model of in­te­gra­tion.

Lu­cano was even named one of the 100 most in­flu­en­tial per­son­al­i­ties by For­tune mag­a­zine in 2016 and in­spired a docu­fic­tion by Wim Wen­ders.

Salvini, who wants to re­duce projects in­spired by Ri­ace and group asy­lum-seek­ers in large centres, has seen his pop­u­lar­ity in­crease since the coali­tion gov­ern­ment came to power in June.

Salvini: has seen his pop­u­lar­ity in­crease since the coali­tion gov­ern­ment came to power in June.

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