Tuesday, May 03, 2011

An Italian village that welcomes refugees from North Africa

Many people leave the North shores of Africa on boat searching for a better live in Europe. The numbers of people cramming into boats to make the unsafe trip has only increased during the riots and civil wars throughout the area. Many times the migrants are instead penned up into refugee camps until the governments and their laws decide what to do with them.

One community in Italy has welcomed the refugees with open arms. Because without them the community would have become a ghost town.

Prospettive dal Dolcedorme
Photo of Calabria, Italy taken by PhotoLab XL at Flickr Creative Commons

From the Guardian, writer Salvatore Aloïse tells us how the village of Calabria has integrated the refugees.

A non-profit organisation looks out for empty homes and refurbishes them to accommodate refugees. While they wait for the grants given to asylum-seekers, which are subject to long delays, the migrants can use a local currency in Riace, with vouchers bearing portraits of Gandhi, Martin Luther King or Che Guevara. When funds arrive, the shops send the vouchers to the local council for payment.

While they wait for formalities to be completed, the refugees are gainfully occupied. The silence of the streets is broken by the hum of workshops helping them to acquire skills in dressmaking, joinery, pottery or glass-blowing, set up as part of an integration scheme funded by the regional government.

Lubaba, who works at the glass factory, arrived here from Ethiopia three years ago after a long journey. From Libya she travelled to Lampedusa, then started another long trail through various Italian reception centres. Her journey ended in Riace, where she decided to stay. "I have a home, enough to live on, I'm learning a trade, and my daughter was born here," she says.

Around 6,000 refugees have passed through the village over the years. Many move on, but some of them stay and try to start their own craft or retail business.

It is not easy, as we heard from an Afghan woman from Herat who left home with her two children when her husband died, finally opening a shop selling knitwear in the village. "We make a living. In the winter it's OK, but selling woolly jumpers in the summer is a struggle," she explains, knitting as her daughter Faeze looks on.

Faeze is in no doubt about her future here in Italy. Speaking Italian with a powerful Calabrian accent, she says she feels "like the others at school". More than 200 refugees like herself and her family have chosen to settle permanently in Riace.

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