This small Italian town has benefited immensely from welcoming displaced refugees with open arms. Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, more than 7 million people have been displaced from their homes and forced to migrate to nearby countries or, infrequently, locations overseas. Not only is relocating often traumatizing and life-threatening, it can be a long ordeal because many countries have imposed strict border regulations to control the unprecedented flow of migrants into their countries.
The village of Riace, located in the southern Italian region of Calabria, began decreasing in population in the 1990s. The number of residents went from 2,500 to 400 in a matter of years, which is why citizens and businesses began graciously welcoming refugees.
The mayor of the town, Domenico Lucano, views the flow of refugees in Italy as an opportunity. He says:
“We have been welcoming refugees with open arms for the past 15 years. [They have] saved our village.”
The most recent conflict in Syria began in 2011, but the town of Riace has been welcoming refugees since 1998. Reportedly, 218 Kurdish refugees got stranded on a boat while trying to make their way to Greece. Before they left, Lucana asked them to stay in the village and take over the homes and apartments that had been left vacant by former residents. The rest is history.
Mayor Lucano has since established a “refugees welcome” project which has spread through neighboring towns. Now that the population has rebounded back to 2,500, the Italian government is promoting similar initiatives to help revive smaller, shrinking communities.
The town is flourishing now that refugees have relocated to the city. At present, people from 20 different nations live in relative harmony with each other.
“So many civilizations have left their mark on this land,” says Mayor Lucano. “The ancient Greeks and Romans, the Arabs, Turks and Saracens. And this has helped us have very few prejudices about other peoples.”
No longer do bakeries and workshops sit empty. In addition, a school has even opened for children of the village. One native resident told NPR:
“It’s good the migrants are here. The town is now full of people. Before, there was nothing, no work.”
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