Mon, Oct 15, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Italy shutters town’s migrant model

AFP, ROME

The Italian Ministry of the Interior on Saturday 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 left-leaning 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.

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

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

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

However, it sparked an outcry from supporters who have said 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 centers would begin next week, said the ministry, which has been investigating “clear irregularities” in the town’s reception system since 2016.

The central government gives small centers 35 euros (US$40.51) 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 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?” Lucano said.

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

His migrant program 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 centers, has seen his popularity increase since the coalition government came to power in June.

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