Italy's migration dilemma
It must be realised that Italy is not the UK or Germany which have had migration since the 1960s. In Italy’s case the problem has been emigration, and mass immigration is quite new to them. Between political correctness and plummeting birth rates, quite a debate is raging
It is not so often that a small town of 2,000 people achieves international fame, but to do so twice is remarkable. The town is Riace, right on the toe of Italy, in the region of Calabria, which the Romans called Magna Grecia, greater Greece.
In 1972 a snorkeller on holiday discovered what appeared to be an arm sticking out of the mud. After a careful excavation two massive Greek bronze statues of warriors, 2 metres tall, were found in a perfect state of preservation. They date from around 450BC. After a lengthy restoration in Florence the Riace bronzes were put on display in Rome and are now in Reggio Calabria, the capital of the region.
If they had been displayed in Riace, where they were found, and the tourism directed there, things might have turned out to be very different.
Fast forward more than forty years and Riace is a mess. Like so many southern Italian towns, there is no work for young people, who either leave or embark on a life of organised crime. Businesses, even the local school, are closing. The local mafia, the N’drangheta, has infiltrated society at all levels.
In 2004 the town elected Domenico Lucano, a teacher and human rights activist, as mayor. Lucano watched the miserable migrants on their way north from where they landed and decided to persuade them to stay and rescue his rapidly depopulating town. Normally migrants would not hesitate in such a place because they knew they might find work in prosperous northern Europe. They learn this before coming.
Lucano created agriculture gangs, opened workshops where they could learn and maybe practise a trade. Soon, around one fifth of the town, some 450 people, were newly settled migrants. Lucano erected a sign outside listing the countries from which the new arrivals had come.
And interest in Lucano grew. He is something of a self-publicist and freely gave interviews to a fascinated international press. He was runner up in the worldwide Mayor of the Year competition, a national celebrity.
Slowly the beady eye of authority let its gaze fall on Lucano. As I write, he is under house arrest, charged with fraud, abuse of position in that he carried out illegal marriages to circumvent the immigration law, embezzlement of public funds. It is said he organised a rubbish collection co-operative and then as mayor gave them the contract.
The Lucano case has polarised public opinion on political lines. The left say the charges are politically motivated, although the magistracy is independent n Italy and tends to be somewhat left-leaning. In particular the left see what Lucano was doing as something beautiful, a gesture of welcome to people in need.
The celebrated left-wing journalist and anti-mafia campaigner Roberto Saviano has been down in Riace, observing Lucano’s work in terms of a social model which could rebuild the devastated southern regions of Italy.
On the right, this is seen as a nuisance which has to be tackled. For the first part people do not want immigrants encouraged: they don’t want it advertised around north and sub-saharan Africa that a home and a good way of life can be found in Italy.
Secondly the whole process of migration is based on the fact that immigrants do not want to stay in Italy where there is no work, and so are allowed to drift northwards doing casual labour on the way. Italy gives clandestine help to them to cross into neighbouring countries.
It must be realised that Italy is not the UK or Germany which have had migration since the 1960s. In Italy’s case the problem has been emigration and this state of affairs is quite new to them. People are openly saying what could not be said in Britain, that these people have different habits and morals and are a threat to Italian life and traditions. And this is being said by educated left-leaning professionals.
But at some stage Italy will have to ask itself how, given that the ultra-low birth rate makes the population unsustainable, they will pay the pensions of the present generation without the taxes of a few million young, hard working, fecund immigrants. Also they must ask themselves how the increasingly deserted south will survive, with its closing shops and schools, unless someone comes in and lives there.
I don’t know what will happen to Mr. Lucano: he is a man who acted in what he saw was the interests of his town and, well, maybe bent some rules somewhere.
I do know that there are problems which have to be addressed here.
Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here
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