Fifteen years after Riace, a village in southern Italy, opened its doors to migrants from Africa, it’s quite astonishing to think that somewhere in Europe lies a place that actually likes such people.
The BBC World Service has been chronicling the reality of life there. Listen to the programme here.
It describes something that was previously documented in Le Monde and thence in The Guardian back in May 2011. Namely, how the migrants are bringing new life to Riace, reviving its dwindling population of young people, energising its local arts and craft, rekindling hope for the future.
The migrants are mainly from Ethiopia, Eritrea or Somalia. Some are from Afghanistan. All speak Italian with a strong Calabrian accent. While they wait for their grants, asylum-seekers are allowed to use a special local currency in the form of vouchers that bear portraits of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King or Che Guevara. (After funding becomes available, the local shops send the vouchers to the council for payment.)Eid is celebrated with gusto – beer and food cooked from a sacrificial goat – and Riace seems quite happy.
The point about Riace appears to be its clear-eyed embrace of the world as it is today. A sign is marked “Host Town”. The mayor says he’s happy the village is thriving. It all started in July 1998, when a boat carrying 300 Kurds landed and local people opened their doors. Riace’s embrace of ‘the other’ is about self-preservation. In the process, it restores faith in the age-old belief that the world is kin. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, as is said in Sanskrit.