The village of Riace, in southern Italy, has become a global symbol of solidarity for its unique way of welcoming refugees. For years, the region suffered from a declining population, as young people left, many migrating north in search of jobs and culture.
In response, Raice began to enthusiastically welcome refugees in the late 1990s, offering migrants abandoned housing and job training.
As a result, Riace began to experience a resurgence. People renewed traditional arts and crafts, and opened bed and breakfasts, workshops, and art exhibitions. Some of the original villagers returned from the north, motivated by the promising economy and revitalized culture. They have been working with the new migrants to clean streets, renovate houses in ruins, rebuild schools, and establish educational farms, vegetable gardens, and olive presses.
The mayor of the village, Domenico Lucano—listed by Fortune as one of 2017’s most influential people—called it the “Riace Model,” and has inspired other small towns in the region to follow suit.
But a new rightwing Italian government has severely cut financing for the entire welcoming project, and a personally and politically hostile Ministry of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, has repeatedly attacked Mayor Lucano.
In June of this year, Salvini told immigrants in Riace to “pack your bags,” ordering their transfer to migrant reception centers. He has also blocked funding for the System of Protection for Asylum Seekers and Refugees, a major source of support for immigrants to the small villages. A number of migrants and locals went on hunger strike in August, temporarily shuttering workshops and stores.
In October, Mayor Lucano was arrested by the Public Prosecutor of Locri, Italy, accused of “aiding illegal immigration.” Lucano was released within a few weeks, but has had to leave the southern town to comply with a court order banning him. Many villagers say that they are ready to continue the southern town’s widely lauded model to integrate migrants—even without public money.