Refugees Are Rejuvenating Dying Italian Towns

Migrants wave from the deck of the Croatian vessel SB 72 Mohorovicic prior to being disembarked at Reggio Calabria harbor, Italy, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ADRIANA SAPONE
Migrants wave from the deck of the Croatian vessel SB 72 Mohorovicic prior to being disembarked at Reggio Calabria harbor, Italy, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ADRIANA SAPONE

Wars and economic hardship are displacing thousands upon thousands of people in troubled corners of the globe. While European politicians continue to debate whether to accept those seeking refuge, some Italian villages have shown how resettling refugees can revive towns once teetering on the verge of collapse.

“We have been welcoming refugees with open arms for the past 15 years,” Lucano Domenico, Mayor of Riace, in Italy’s southern region of Calabria, told Al Jazeera. “[They have] saved our village.”

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In 1998, a boat of 218 Kurdish refugees landed in Riace while trying to make its way to Greece. The town had once boasted a humble population of around 2,500, but economic difficulties led many villagers to abandon their homes for the more prosperous north. With only around 400 people left inhabiting Riace, Domenico suggested the refugees stay and take over abandoned homes. Nearly 20 years later, 20 different nationalities have settled in Riace, where refugees and migrants feel appreciated and locals welcome the rejuvenation of their town.

Rome seems to have taken notice and is now resettling refugees in other shrinking communities around the country — a viable alternative to keeping refugees in camps that are a financial burden on the hosts and an emotional burden on the refugees.

While some corners of society react to resettling refugees with fear or the concern that their values and culture may be set aside by incomers of new faith, color, or nationality, ThinkProgress has wrote in the past about an economically-backed argument for resettling refugees.

As the Economist has also noted, refugees can raise unemployment rates in the “very short term” but quickly contribute toward economic growth — especially in rural areas or countries that have shrinking populations. According to the Economist:

In the very short run, the IMF estimates that refugees will add around 0.19% of GDP to public expenditure in the European Union (0.35% in Germany) in 2016. This will add to public debt, and given higher joblessness among refugees, unemployment will rise. But looking only at their fiscal impact is too narrow a focus. Later on, as the new arrivals integrate into the workforce, they are expected to boost annual output by 0.1% for the EU as a whole, and 0.3% in Germany. They should also help (a little bit) to reverse the upward creep of the cost of state pensions as a share of GDP, given their relative youth.

Economic projections aside, the affect of repopulating dying villages has also had a profound affect on the people of these villages.

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“Thank God they brought us these people,” Luigi Marotti, a 68-year-old who takes care of the Roman Catholic Church in Calabria’s town of Satriano, told Bloomberg in February. “Satriano was dead. Thanks to them it’s alive again. The village can start growing. If they leave, I don’t know where we can go.”