Integration Vs Exclusion: The Arrest Of The Mayor Of Riace Explained

The mayor of Riace has been arrested, but his model of integration works perfectly

The mayor of Riace, Domenico “Mimmo” Lucano, has been recently arrested for facilitation of illegal immigration and fraudulent assignment of waste collection to two local cooperatives. Lucano is renowned all over the world for the extraordinary system of integration between migrants and locals tested in his little village in Calabria, the very southern point of the peninsula. Thanks to a national integration program for refugees (named Sprar), Mimmo transformed a semi-abandoned place in a model of retraining so that, in 2016, Fortune Magazine included him in the list of the top fifty most influent people in the world. However, since then, something went wrong.

A serious punishment

His house arrest was ordered after a eighteen months-long investigation aiming to verify the legal use of public funds addressed to the above mentioned program. A presumption that resulted well-founded, having the investigation confirmed that the mayor did not spend public money for other purposes. Instead, on the basis of a wiretapping, the most serious matter emerged was his intention of arranging a marriage between an Italian man and a Nigerian woman who could not obtain the residence permit. Nobody denies the relevance of this kind of illegal operation, although there’s no evidence the marriage was actually celebrated. Even so, house arrest?

When context is relevant

This penalty appears to many as a disproportionate measure, as provided in the aftermath of the recent Matteo Salvini “Safety decree”, which has clearly brought about a restriction in terms of funds and measures for accommodating refugees. Coincidentally, the Sprar system is also supposed to be strongly limited in its possible application, becoming now addressable only to unaccompanied minors or to beneficiaries of international protection. This is no surprise, considering that the Riace model is far away from the current government’s idea of facing the migrant crisis for real.

An extraordinary model of integration

Indeed, Riace is the – inconvenient – proof that true integration is possible. The origin of this multi-ethnic community dates back to 1998, when a boat full of Kurds fleeing the war arrived on the Tyrrenian shores not so far from this little Calabrian village. Mimmo Lucano was among the first to welcome these refugees, not only by providing them mere essential goods: on the contrary, he let them live in abandoned houses of the village, granting them also a job. In twenty years, the population of Riace grew from nine hundred people to more than two thousand inhabitants, with four hundred foreigners and almost as many locals coming back to their hometown after the requalification obtained thanks to his program.

Benefits for everyone

The basic idea behind this model is that we can take advantage from diversity in a continue exchange of knowledge and competences, by creating jobs where everyone can work side by side. Shops, wood, ceramics and copper laboratories, language schools and any sort of inclusive activities not only allowed the concrete integration of immigrants (mainly North African today), but also triggered the re-birth of the local economy, previously walking slowly to death. Just think of the coupons to spend in the municipal area that are distributed to foreigners in order to channel money on the territory.

Integration vs exclusion

Such a model is opposite to a tragic reality, widespread in Italy and in the very same region, where immigrants work for three euros per day and live in tent camps without any rights or dignity. The prototype of this exploitation is Rosarno, only sixty kilometers away from Riace, on the opposite coast of Calabria. Literally and symbolically two poles apart, these also represent two different ways of considering and treating humang beings: integration and dignity vs exploitation and exclusion. How can the latter be our choice?