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How Italy’s Migrant Model Town Riace Veered Rar-Right

Some migrants and locals gather for a talk in front of the 'Taverna Donna Rosa,' in Riace, Italy, the main centre for the protest against the central government. PHOTO: The National/Giacomo Sini

By Kelly Velasquez | 7 June 2019

YAHOO (AFP) — The sign reading “Riace, land of welcome” still hangs in the small town, but its dream of migrant integration is over after the far-right’s “Italians first” election victory.

The new mayor of the one-time “global village” in southern Italy’s rural Calabria elected on May 26 with the support of Matteo Salvini’s anti-migrant Lega party, Antonio Trifoli, has so far left the sign up.

“We will welcome refugees again,” he told AFP.

“But we can’t have 500 to 600 asylum seekers in a town with 1,500 residents,” said the former town policeman.

Trifoli was first on the independent “Riace reborn” list, backed by the Lega, whose supporters provided many of the 41.8 percent of the 1,103 votes he won.

Until just a few years ago, the Lega was a separatist party at the other end of the country which sneeringly referred to southerners as “bumpkins” or worse.

“The problem is that we had too many migrants and we lost the spirit of openness there was initially,” said Trifoli.

“A whole economic system developed with the migrants, but without making the village dynamic again… The model destroyed itself,” he said.

Former mayor Domenico “Mimmo” Lucano encouraged migrants and refugees to come to the village to counter a gradual decline of inhabitants and workers and show how migrant integration could be done.

But now he is no longer even a member of the town council after his left-backed list lost in the elections, and he has been barred from the town.

Lucano is due in court next week to face charges including that he failed to put to tender a garbage collection contract that went to a migrant-linked cooperative.

German director Wim Wenders made a documentary in 2010 featuring the leftist mayor and Riace’s refugees, but Lucano was last year placed under house arrest for allegedly setting up fake marriages to help foreign women stay in the country after their asylum applications were rejected. […]

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