The town of Riace in Southern Italy not only welcomes Syrian refugees, but are actively trying to recruit migrants from around the world to help rebuild its flailing economy. Many Italians have largely abandoned the region in search of better economic opportunities in the north and abroad, leaving behind shuttered schools and abandoned fields. Enter opportunities for displaced people who have been arriving from sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and recently, Syria.
Mohammed Ali and Kinda Nonoo fled Aleppo nearly five years ago and after living in Lebanon for a time, arrived in Italy this year via the “humanitarian corridors” program supported by nongovernmental organizations affiliated with the Catholic Church and a coalition of Protestant churches. In the last year, the project has brought about 800 Syrian refugees from Lebanon to communities throughout Italy with plans to bring 200 more refugees from Lebanon and possibly Morocco, along with about 500 Africans now living in Ethiopia. The main objective of the new humanitarian corridors project is to prevent refugees from attempting the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.
Paolo Naso is one of the architects of the program, and says he hopes that this new generation could help replace the region’s shrinking workforce. “Our population is aging and declining and the decay is very severe, especially in the rural areas,” he states. Many immigrants have welcomed the work, and can be seen herding sheep in the hills, driving tractors up the roads, and working alongside Italian residents in the artisanal shops in the town’s center.
“We are basically proposing a humane alternative,” says Mayor Domenico Lucano. “This is the message we are sending to this world where closures and barriers are prevailing.”