The Changing Face of Italy, As Seen in One Small Town

A pro-immigration mayor has made Riace a symbol of Southern Italy's future.

Image
Reuters

In Italy's southern region of Calabria sits Riace, a village of nearly 2,000 people. After decades of economic decline in one of the poorest parts of Italy, Riace has seen hundreds of new faces move into town in recent years. The changing population is largely credited to the village's ambitious mayor, Domenico Lucano.

Riace natives have been in the habit of moving away in search of work, usually to the north or to other countries, since the 1960s. So Lucano decided to focus on encouraging immigrants, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, to settle in Riace. Over 200 refugees have settled in the village since Lucano became mayor in 2004, and the influx of residents has already led a school to reopen after being shut down in 2000. Other formerly empty buildings have become craft workshops.

Part of the population influx is thanks to Italy's national integration program for previously detained refugees, which provides a monthly salary of 700 euros to its participants. Lucano, in a 2011 interview with the BBC, spoke of it being a bargain for the country, noting that the costs are far cheaper than keeping refugees in a detainment center.

Italy's Deputy Interior Minister commented recently that Italy faced an "incessant and massive influx of migrants" in 2013, citing a 325 percent increase from 2012 despite a national unemployment rate that continues to hover around 12 percent. Mass immigration is not especially popular among Italians, with immigrants facing racism not only on city streets but, as seen during the brief time Cecile Kyeng spent in the cabinet of then-Prime Minister Enrico Letta, as part of the nation's political climate.

Italy's wave of immigrants, however, isn't expected to slow down anytime soon. As Reuters recently reported, a national Catholic charity projects the country's foreign born population will make up 23 percent of Italy's population by 2063. In Riace, they're increasingly becoming the face of the town's new image:

The town of Riace is seen in the southern Italian region of Calabria November 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Max Rossi)
A man sits on steps in Riace November 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Max Rossi)
The mayor of Riace, Domenico Lucano, poses for a photograph in Riace November 23, 2013. (REUTERS/Max Rossi)
Two women talk as they sit in Riace November 21, 2013. (REUTERS/Max Rossi)
Antonio (L) sits in his barbershop in Riace November 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Max Rossi)
Unme, a migrant from Pakistan, works in her ceramics shop in Riace November 21, 2013. (REUTERS/Max Rossi)
Daniel, 32, collects rubbish with a cart pulled by a donkey in Riace November 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Max Rossi)
Robert, a migrant from Ghana, stands with his employer Massimiliano in a bar in Riace November 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Max Rossi)
Eritrean migrants prepare food in their home in Riace November 21, 2013. (REUTERS/Max Rossi)
An Eritrean family sit in their home in Riace November 21, 2013. (REUTERS/Max Rossi)
A woman walks with a child in Riace November 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Max Rossi)
A drawing showing pupils and their names is seen on a classroom door in Riace November 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Max Rossi)
Daniel (R), a migrant from Ghana, and his girlfriend Angela, from Nigeria, wait for the bus in Riace November 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Max Rossi)

Top image: Daniel, a migrant from Ghana, works as a construction worker in Riace November 21, 2013. (REUTERS/Max Rossi)

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