Monday, 17 April 2017

Nigerian Refugees, Others Bring Dying Italy Village Back To Life

In the foothills of the Aspromonte mountains in
southern Italy, the silence of a once-dying village
is broken by the laughter of a small group of
refugees. Tiny Sant’Alessio has been welcoming families and
vulnerable migrants here for three years in a
project which not only provides humanitarian
assistance but brings with it invaluable economic
and social benefits. Over the years the village has dwindled to only
330 inhabitants, many of them elderly. The steep
cobbled streets are deserted and most windows
are shuttered, residents having left over the years
for better work opportunities in Turin, Milan or as
far away as Australia. In an attempt to reverse the trend, however, since
2014 the council has been renting eight of these
empty flats to house up to 35 migrants at a time as
part of the national SPRAR network (Protection
System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees). Everything is done to help the newcomers get
back on their feet, from Italian lessons to legal,
medical and psychological assistance, vocational
training and social activities such as gardening,
cooking and dancing classes. The village is currently home to an Iraqi Kurdish
family, a Gambian couple with a baby and young
people from Ghana, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal. There is a special project for the most vulnerable,
including HIV-positive people, diabetics, victims of
prostitution networks, a deaf and dumb couple,
and a young woman whose toddler son was shot
dead in Libya and husband is feared drowned. – ‘Humane and humanitarian’ – “Our mission is both humane and humanitarian,
that’s the most important thing,” said Stefano
Calabro, a 43-year-old police officer who has been
mayor of Sant’Alessio since 2009. “But there is a significant economic benefit too.” The state allocates up to 45 euros (47 dollars) a
day for each migrant, most of which goes to the
organisers to cover costs. The project has created full or part-time jobs in
Sant’Alessio for 16 people including seven locals —
from social workers to Italian teachers and cultural
mediators. And it has prevented the closure of the village’s
basic services — a bar, small supermarket, doctor’s
surgery and pharmacy. With funds to spend on services, the council has
been able to open a small gym open to all residents
and upkeep a lush sports field overlooking the
valley, where migrants regularly challenge the
team from a nearby drug rehabilitation centre. After six months to a year here, some of the
refugees managed to find work in the region,
others headed elsewhere.

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