“Imagine all the people sharing all the world”
Riace is a small town on the Ionian coast of Calabria, mainly known for a major archeological discovery in 1972 under its seawaters not far from the coast. This discovery of two human-size statues from ancient Greece was named Bronzi di Riace and transferred to the National Museum in Reggio, Calabria. Soon thereafter the town went back to its usual life as an average Calabrian borgo, until decades later, in 1998, when the first boat with Kurdish refugees arrived on the coast of Riace.
Domenico Lucano, a local schoolteacher, got together with a group of old friends and took initiative to provide shelter and hospitality for the refugees. They were offered housing, Italian language courses for quicker assimilation, and most importantly, they received help obtaining employment. In a few years, Lucano’s initiative brought amazing results; Riace’s primary school, which was previously closed due to a lack of children in the village (which is a typical situation in the south of Italy) re-opened its doors to the new students. Locals were employed by the state as cultural mediators to further help assimilate the new residents. Furthermore, the big problem with waste disposal was solved as the village now had enough people to clean up and organize a differentiated waste system. A surprising fact is that due to bureaucratic slowness in providing funds to this project, the town established a local currency, which helped maintain money within the town generated by this system. Once the project became official in 2004, over 6000 refugees passed through, and about 400 reside permanently in the Global Village of Riace. The town has welcomed refugees from all over the world: Kurdistan, Lebanon, Palestina, Syria and many others.
The initiator of the Global Village refugee project has become the mayor of Riace, and in 2016 he was ranked 40th World’s Greatest Leader by the infamous Fortune magazine for his pro-refugee efforts.
Inspired by this story, we visited Riace to see how immigration has affected the small town and its residents. Our impression is contradictory to any negative anti-immigration claims, for they have created a beautiful and welcome environment, where 20 nationalities live together in peace. The town is a testament as to how welcoming and assimilating refugees into our cultures and societies can bring positive impact and help countries thrive. And even-though Riace itself might not be a sightseeing marvel, it is, nevertheless, a wonderful place to visit. Nestled in the nature of Aspromonte and enriched by the street art, it is a cozy little place, and a home to its multicultural society. Here is a glimpse on life in Riace.