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Italy: Refugees find a home in the Calabrian village Riace

Transl.: Eulenspargel
Original: "Das Dorf der Zukunft: Im kalabrischen Riace finden Flüchtlinge Heimat"  3SAT TV, Clemens Riha, 23.02.2010

Riace in Calabria is pursuing a different path as the rest of Europe. In a time when naval vessels are patrolling through the Mediterranean, when fences are being erected against refugees from Africa and politicians are discovering immigrants as number one public enemies, the mayor of Riace, Domenico Lucano, has declared his village a home for refugees.

Riace is a little village at the southernmost end of Italy. Once Riace had a population of 3000. Half of these have left to find work in the richer north. Their houses stand empty. The old people are left behind. But for some time now you can once more hear childrens' voices. They come from the Palazzo Pinarro, the location of the mayor. The teacher Cosemina Ierino gives lessons in Italian. The children are refugees from Irak. "It is great to work with them", says the Professoressa. "I am building a relationship to people who come from totally different cultures. On the one hand I instruct them, on the other hand I myself learn many new things through them."

A kind of vocation

For years they had lived in refugee camps, and here in Italy they have for the first time been able to attend a real school. Domenico Lucano, the mayor, brought the children and their parents to Riace. His office is all things in one: here they have an Internet connection to their home countries, and people that listen to them. The door of the mayor always stands open. It all began in the year 2000 as Kurd refugees stranded in Riace. Lucano recalls, "with their boat they landed directly on our beach". "By chance I happened to be standing there, and felt a kind of mission. Because our villages are all places of emigration - people are more likely to go away than to come. Here in the Calabrian hinterland, we are well acquainted with the history of migration to all corners of the world. But with these refugees, our village has once more become a place of hope and arrival."

Domenico Lucano founded an association and called it " Città Futura", town of future. It has become the biggest employer in the village. The association builds workshops in which the immigrants create art handicrafts which the association sells. Refugees moved into the deserted homes. "I believe" said the mayor, "that poorer societies like ours are in a better position to understand the anxiety and the suffering of others. This is the humus from which I built the new Riace. Our message is that you can overcome all obstacles as long as you stick together."

New hope in Riace

Helen from Ethiopia lernt weaving here. At home she lost her entire family, and managed to get through to Italy with her little daughter. "The refugees are important for us", so Lucano, "through them we have regained a desire to start anew. This new begin enables us to recollect our own traditions and roots. Roots that now influence people to remain in Riace to work in building up the new hope." Shukri from Somalia has been here for a couple of months now. After finishing school, her teacher Irene had planned to go off to northern Italy. But the association gave her a new perspective. Shukri came in a boat full of refugees. She reported "The sea was terribly wild. The waves had whirled our small boat around for days. My daughter was not yet born, I was pregnant in the 8th month and was completely terrified on the water."

Previously no foreigners lived in Riace. Now there are almost 300. They finance the association with their work. The village pizzeria was closed for years until it was taken over and the building renovated by Città Futura and the refugees. The Palestinians were missing the bread they ate back home, until the mayor remembered the old charcoal oven. "Here we owe everything to Domenico" said the refugee Dayaa. "Our life, our luck - thanks to Domenico." The Palestinien bread is baked with abundant oil and sesame seeds. It is clear that the mayor gets the first offering. However he not only has friends: for the mafia he is just a thorn in their flesh. "They shot at our door", Lucano mentioned, "and killed three of my dogs near my house - young, beautiful animals. They poisened them. I try to ignore the deed, to not give it any weight. We just continue on, because if you let yourself be silenced in that way, you die inwardly."

The mafia as enemy

Riace is like an island surrounded by a raging sea. Aiva Saibou fled from the nearby village of Rosarno with a shooting wound. She had worked in an orange orchard until locals started a hunt against Africans. The refugee from Togo explained, "I was walking along a street as a car came up. The car headed directly towards me. Two men pulled out pistols and shot. Then they drove off. I don't know why". The locals attacked the Africans with iron bars and shotguns, and purposely endangered them with cars. The mafia lets 4000 immigrants work for starvation wages in the orange orchards of Rosarno.

"I am talking not just about Italy, but about all of Europe", Lucano began. "We are under way to a new barbarity that throws all those humane principles and values overboard that used to be fundamental for us all." Domenico Lucano wants to give refugees a perspective, allow those people to enter into our world that had strength enough to reach Europe. The mayor of a tiny village is showing the world how Europe could look like. But the world outside of Riace is different.