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Ground-breaking migrant program shut down by Italy’s right wing government

29 October 20180 comments

Italy’s far-right interior minister has ordered the removal of around 200 asylum seekers from a small Italian town that has become a model for the integration of migrants.

And the town of Riace’s mayor Domenico Lucano has been placed under house arrest accused of accounting irregularities and organising marriages of convenience to circumvent Italy’s immigration rules.

The move by Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-immigrant Lega party, comes as a national debate has erupted in Italy over migration.

Mayor Lucano made headlines around the world for welcoming migrants to the sparsely-populated town in Calabria in a bid to boost jobs and development.

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 transferal of migrants to other centres will begin pending an appeal.

The Italian government gives small towns 35 euros 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.

Mr Lucano said his lawyers were 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?” Mr Lucano told media.

“They want to destroy us and I am immensely bitter,” he said.

His migrant program has seen abandoned houses restored and craft workshops reopened in the town, 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 the documentary Wim Wenders.

Mr 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.

Mayor Lucano’s administration worked for the integration of refugees and irregular migrants, opening schools, funding small activities and creating laboratories, bars, bakeries and even door-to-door garbage collection, guaranteed by two young migrants, who used donkeys.

Cultural mediators worked alongside the migrants while a special currency helped them in their daily expenses while the administration was waiting for European funding. During the summer, many Europeans visited the small Calabrian ‘model’ of integration.