On Wednesday last, the town mayor of Riace Domenico Lucano was awarded a prize by the Bern-based Foundation for freedom and human rights for his remarkable commitment to the refugees’ cause. It is a prestigious recognition for this small town in the province of Reggio, chosen by the Foundation as a shining example of good reception and integration.
It all began in 1998, when 200 Kurds disembarked on the Jonian coasts of Calabria and reached Riace, a location of great strategic importance in the migrants’ routes between the Mediterranean Basin and Central Europe. Illegal immigrants, refugees, poverty-stricken people who were welcomed by the local population and hosted in the unoccupied houses of the area. In 1999, Associazione Città Futura was created and named after Father Pino Puglisi, with a view to making it into a refugee village. Since then, a few workshops have been set up for the preservation of traditional arts and crafts, and they are now run by young people from the association, refugees from the temporary shelters and many volunteers.
“When the association was created – says Domenico Lucano – we meant it to be a multi-culture village, where people would encounter no difficulties in speaking the same language, holding together and working for a common goal. We felt we needed a new source of energy, and it had to come from the outside and at the same time draw inspiration from our old traditions, the most genuine and authentic, those connected with the culture of hospitality. It has been a pleasant journey this far. It has involved our helping out people who came here looking for new life chances, and their helping us make our Association grow bigger. Today, we are a reception centre for refugees and asylum seekers, a new chapter in the book of inter-cultural assistance. What I hope for today is the possibility to speak the same language with these people and exchange a few words with them: words about human rights and dignity, rather than money and business.”
Of the 1.800 inhabitants of Riace, 400 are foreigners from a range of different countries.
The Foundation, which is chaired by Lotta Jacobi and assigns this prestigious recognition every two years – the Dalai Lama is one of the personalities awarded in the past – has now decided to honor this small Calabrian town and its mayor for their humanity in opening the doors to their fellow migrants and turning an emergency situation into a chance for growth: a kind of growth that is cultural, social and economic at the same time, involving as it does the whole local community.