‘The Renaissance of Remote Places. MATILDE Manifesto” New Routledge book series “Remote Places and Remoteness”

Our colleagues of our H2020 ‘sister programme’, MATILDE present their new book, a Manifesto, which discusses 10 Theses for a new centrality of European remote regions, and an active role of both internal and international migration in local development processes related to the places left behind.

Prof. Dr. Annelies Zoomers (PI Welcoming Spaces) reflects on the manifesto in her commentary ‘The need for a less territorial, more people-centred and relational approach'(pp. 117-124)

The volume is freely downloadable in Open Access:

Activating the migration-development link in medium and small municipalities – H2020 Joint declaration

Five ideas for getting the most out of the Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan (and for a better reception of refugees)

Joint declaration of the Horizon2020 project

Welcoming Spaces and Whole-COMM

April 2022

Since 2015, there has been a redistribution of asylum seekers throughout the country, even in the most peripheral areas. Specifically, territorially and economically most disadvantaged areas of the country are often those most capable of leveraging the arrival of refugees to start rethinking the future and investing in economic, social and cultural revitalization.

Yet these promising experiences have remained substantially isolated, at best awarded formal recognition as “good practices”, in a context where the link between welcoming migrants and territorial development of marginal areas has not been placed at the centre of any real national policy.

To counter this lack of attention, the researchers involved in two ongoing projects, all funded by the European Commission’s Horizon2020 program—Welcoming Spaces and Whole-COMM—want to unite their voices to emphasise the importance of some key principles for the creation of a stable and profitable link between the integration of migrants and the development of marginal areas. To prevent territorial and social exclusion from reinforcing one other, and starting from the kind of development that also leverages cultural and environmental dimensions, we believe that the following principles should be placed at the centre of a serious program of coordinated investments and interventions, from the local level to the national and European one.

  • Produce shared imaginaries of possible futures regarding migration and development of inland areas. Migration is often narrated as a problem, a crisis to be solved, while peripheral areas are often romanticised or trivialised by traditional media. Given that narratives on migration and inner areas can influence and are influenced by policies, it is necessary to co-construct a “third imaginary” to bring out the link between migration and development, with space for cultural diversity and a clearly defined added value for territories and communities. The various welcome initiatives present in some peripheral Italian areas are already working in this sense (e.g.: photographic exhibitions and public seminars, street art contests, summer schools, collaborations with local and national newspapers, blogs, theatrical performances, documentaries, etc.).
  • Support development for the benefit of all. The development of inner areas should be considered in an integrated way, combining the dimension of socio-cultural well-being with the environmental, economic and political dimensions. From this perspective, it is necessary to take charge of the needs and aspirations of all the people who are part of the new intercultural communities present in the inner areas, in order to preserve their dynamism and development. It is essential to overcome the shared vulnerabilities of the residents. This means ensuring a good quality of life through the consolidation of local networks and social infrastructure and access to public services, housing and decent employment opportunities.
  • Support a participatory and inclusive (whole-of-community) approach to the integration of migrants and local development. The development of inner areas and the creation of positive relationships with migrants must necessarily involve the whole community, and the multiplicity of voices and organisations that characterise it: the local administration, civil society associations, businesses, individual native citizens and migrants. It is only through mutual knowledge and dialogue that it is possible to build cohesive communities of which everyone feels a part, where hospitality and integration are not a burden but a chance to imagine and build new opportunities for economic and social development.
  • Think about local development and the integration of migrants starting from the relationship between rural and urban areas. Local development and the inclusion of newcomers in peripheral areas cannot be thought of as isolated and impermeable to the dynamics of urban centres, which represent relevant poles of the labour market and services. The relationships between urban and rural areas consist of material and immaterial flows: people, economic resources, information, skills and practices are all elements that make up this relationship. An example of this is the food chain, where many migrants are employed and where the dynamics of large-scale distribution often generate negative effects on producers and workers, as well as on the environment. The joint strategic planning between rural and mountain areas of these flows is therefore indispensable to guarantee spatial and social justice and to promote sustainable development.
  • Establish decision-making bodies that connect the different levels of government and also involve medium and small municipalities. The smaller municipalities are often excluded from decision-making processes which nevertheless have a decisive impact on their territories. Interventions capable of supporting local development and the integration of migrants in major urban centres may be unsuitable for rural and mountain contexts, characterised by different needs and resources. At the same time, Regional and central governments, even if they want to, do not have effective tools at their disposal to keep in touch with these areas and closely follow their transformations. It is therefore essential to develop stable institutional mechanisms that allow for continuous, and not just occasional, exchange between levels of government and facilitate the involvement of smaller municipalities.

These could become inspiring principles for an adjustment of the Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan, which so far has underestimated the very real danger of ethnic and territorial disadvantages reinforcing each other. By putting these principles into practice, it may be possible to counter the risk of proposing standard solutions in the face of very heterogeneous paths of both the territories and the migrants, or the danger of draining funds through calls for projects that fails to connect individual initiatives to an organic, medium-long term strategic planning framework. With an eye to the immediate horizon, these same principles could guide us in managing the arrival of Ukrainian refugees, so that reception becomes a tool for pursuing lasting processes of economic, social and institutional innovation.

WS public event Friday 6 May 2022, 10.30-13.00 (Torino, Italy) The migration-development nexus in European areas

FIERI and Collegio Carlo Alberto Foundation are pleased to announce the conference “The Migration-development nexus in European inner areas: Shaping strategies around the post-pandemic investments and plans” organised in the framework of the Weloming Spaces project, which will be held on Friday 6th May 2022 from 10.30 am to 1 pm at Collegio Carlo Alberto Foundation (Piazza Arbarello 8, Torino).

Languages: Italian/English, simultaneous translation available

To register for the event in person please sign up HERE.

To register for the online event please sign up HERE.

In Italy, as in the rest of Europe, inner areas and migrants risk to be among the losers of our societies. Several inner areas have been facing a demographic and economic decline as well as a social closure expressed through negative attitudes towards newcomers and anti-diversity voting patterns. At the same time, a remarkable rise of unemployment and poverty and an upsurge of nationalistic attitudes have been hitting a large share of migrants. Can these two potential losers become allies and foster
mutual improvement by refreshing languishing local economies and societies with diversity-triggered and inclusive innovation? For this purpose, the Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan and the European Commission’s long-term Rural Vision may be powerful weapons but much depends on how they address and actually implement the migration-development nexus of inner areas.

In order to answer those questions and starting from the assumption that inner areas are highly diverse, the event addresses processes and tools rather than prêt-à-porter solutions. Moreover, it connects the still rather separated research and policy communities dealing with migration and inner areas, and brings together scholars, local innovative practitioners and high-level public officials with the aim of blending visions and expertise into a fresh strategic thinking.

Programme

10.30-10.45 Opening
Ferruccio Pastore (FIERI)
Paolo Ghirardato (Collegio Carlo Alberto Foundation)
Annelies Zoomers (University of Utrecht)
Representative of the Compagnia di San Paolo Foundation

10.45-11.15 Key messages from ongoing Horizon2020 projects
What can research offer to policy formulation and implementation? What are the musts and must-nots for policies addressing migrant integration and local development in inner areas? And for Italian policies in
particular?

Chair: Irene Ponzo (FIERI)
Pierluigi Musarò. Welcoming Spaces Project (Univeristy of Bologna Alma Mater)
Tiziana Caponio, Whole-COMM Project, (Collegio Carlo Alberto Foundation, University of Torino, FIERI)
Andrea Membretti, MATILDE Project, (University of Eastern Finland)

11.15-12.45 Roundtable “Methods and approaches towards the migration-development nexus”
What are the processes and approaches that can turn internal and international mobility into a factor of cultural, social and economic renewal of inner areas? When does the mobility-development nexus fail and when
does it succeed? What are the tools and methods to involve the local community and newcomers in shaping cultural social and economic development? How can municipalities of inner areas coordinate their action and connect with higher-level institutions? How can social innovation blossoming in remote areas scale up and turn into structural measures? How can Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan and EU programmes addressing rural areas enhance the migration-development nexus? What tools do they offer? What are the risks at implementation level and what can we do to prevent them? What is the balance between inclusion and selection of inner areas targeted by those programmes?

Chair: Eduardo Barberis, University of Urbino
Daniela Luisi (Riabitare l’Italia)
Carlo Cominelli (K-Pax social cooperative, Breno, Lombardy)
Rosario Zurzolo (Jungi Mundu social cooperative, Camini, Calabria)
Matteo Biffoni (ANCI – National Association of Italian Municipalities)
Tatiana Esposito (Ministry of Labour and Social policies)
Matyas Szabo (Europan Commission, The long-term Rural Vision)

12.45-13.00 Concluding remarks
Filippo Barbera (Collegio Carlo Alberto Foundation, University of Torino, Riabitare l’Italia)

CO-DESIGNING AN INCLUSIVE EUROPE

Migration and migrants in the EU

Changing narratives – modifying practices – influencing policies

Under the auspicious title CO-DESIGNING AN INCLUSIVE EUROPE. Migration and migrants in the EU: Changing narratives – modifying practices – influencing policies, on March 1st 2022, coordinators and researchers of ten EU 2020 Horizon funded projects gathered together in the heart of EU quarters in Brussels to share findings, exchange experience among the participants, discuss with MEPs and EU officials, and to make policy recommendations based on diverse study approaches.

The event was an opportunity to inform the European decision-makers, in an applicable, pragmatic way, about the findings and challenges of H2020 projects related to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. The multi-dimensional and interdisciplinary approach of the projects made us learn from our colleagues and share our findings from a learning-community perspective, being able to overcome the traps of disciplinary silos and methodological fragmentations, and especially overcoming the binary categories, such as temporary/permanent, legal/illegal, forced/voluntary migration. Rather, the focus was placed on the complexity approach to migration, such as structure and agency, narratives, policies and governance.

It was history-making the fact that ten EU-financed projects focused on migration came together for the first time. This event aimed at offering an opportunity to engage with various researchers and practitioners from 34 countries including 21 EU countries, representing a total of 135 institutions. It was also an excellent occasion to establish a fruitful research network whereas we had the chance to meet each other and become acquainted with the work we all do on closely related topics. Certainly, the prospect of this initiative will lead us into future collaborations, preferably with the formation of a formal network. The seed has been sown.

Check out the reflections of the day by our team member José Ricardo Martins (University of Siegen).

Special thanks to Lili Nottrott and Anamaria Dutceac Segesten for the magnificent organisation and moderation of the event.

Welcoming Spaces picked up by national news in Camini, Italy

Visualising migration and local development in Camini

We are currently organising workshops in various localities across the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Spain and Italy to visualise narratives of migration and local development in shrinking regions.

Together with migrant newcomers and long-term residents, we explore the local surroundings and the meaning of “welcoming” and “unwelcoming” in daily life. We are doing this by means of photography.

Once these narratives are co-constructed and collectively discussed with the participants, we will make a selection of the visuals together with the participants for both a live exhibition and a digital one. With the exhibitions, we aim to amplify the voice of local communities, connect rural and urban contexts on migration and local development, and stimulate the collective discussion on what we consider as welcoming spaces in Europe. Stay tuned!

Our project has been picked up by national news in Italy.

Moving Forward When Life is on Hold: Personal Development in Asylum Seeker Centers in Dutch Shrinking Areas

By Eline Heirman (Master in International Development Studies)

How do you develop personally, when you are living in a rural, shrinking area in the Netherlands? In the research, I conducted for my Master Thesis, I focused on the personal development of asylum-seekers in rural, shrinking areas in the Netherlands. Talking with asylum-seekers, I have stumbled upon many interesting practices and aspirations of asylum-seekers in rural, shrinking areas that are attributed to the time they are spending in reception centers. However, one conclusion was always evident: asylum-seekers are eager to grow personally and want to start integrating in the Dutch society proactively, but they are unable to do so due to their lack of legal status. So, how can they develop personally?

Liminality and Personal Development

“When they say ‘you need to wait’ but you have no idea how long you need to wait. That is the most horrible part of the situation (…) it is just like someone is pushing the pause button in your life”. (Mia, 28 years old from Armenia) – all names mentioned are pseudonyms.

Due to the absence of a legal status, asylum-seekers are generally in-between their ‘former life’ and their ‘future life’ in the reception country. This period in-between can  be called liminality (see also see the work of Ghorashi (2005), Ghorashi, De Boer and Ten Holder (2018), Stenner (2017) and O’Reilly (2018)). Asylum-seekers in general are subject to liminality, for example because reception centers, which are called AZCs in Dutch, are mostly places located outside of towns and separated spatially and socially from the rest of  Dutch society. The AZC is also a place where asylum-seekers have to wait long periods until they receive a reply on their asylum-application; this can take months, or sometimes even years.

Staying in the AZC feels like someone has pressed the “pause-button” of life

During this ‘pause’ or waiting-time asylum-seekers have limited autonomy to develop themselves as they have little rights to work or study. This is something that leads to great frustration, as one of the research participants pointed out to me: “Where do you meet new people? Mostly in study, in the work, because of work, because of all that connections going. So when there is no such opportunity it is really hard to meet new people”. Not only does the inability to work or study impact one’s autonomous decision to develop oneself through labour or education, it also negatively impacts network building. As research has shown, it is precisely networking that is needed to integrate in the local community.

Organisations

Often you see people going from AZC to AZC. Each time they have to make new friends. There is so much loss. Some much grief comes with it and there is no time passing during the day. Yes, somewhere they lose themselves. This programme offers new skills on how to sustain oneself in such a period. (Maya, GZA Nurse)

Luckily, there are several organizations that contribute to personal development of asylum-seekers. For example, the ‘BAMBOO’-programme of the healthcare organization ‘Gezondheidszorg Asielzoekers’(GZA), lets asylum-seekers work on their personal development, goals, skills and resilience during their liminal period in the AZC. The programme is meant for day to day struggles of asylum-seekers. ‘Stichting de Vrolijkheid’ (a name that roughly translates as ‘Foundation Happiness’) is an organization that arranges art projects for young AZC-residents. They are present in several AZCs, but unfortunately not in all. Their projects contribute to self-expression and personal development of refugees staying in AZCs, with the main goal: let children be children!

Outside of the AZC there may be Buddy programmes. Through buddy projects, refugees pair up with locals, which is an effective and inclusive contribution to integration. It may also lead to bridging the gap in networking as one employee of Buddy to Buddy mentioned:

What I have noticed is that it is so really easy to close your front door and stay in your own home. Most refugees have a full mind and their own life. But buddies quite literally open their front door and let others in. This way you will become part of society”.

Becoming part of society, or engaging in activities that may contribute to personal development is actually quite hard while residing in rural, shrinking areas. Though there are several organizations that contribute to personal development of asylum-seekers, these organizations or project are not  available in or near AZCs, meaning that it completely depends on the location of the AZC where you are placed whether you can join arranged activities or not. What became clear in my research, is that the state of liminality of asylum-seekers may be enlarged due to being located in a rural, shrinking region. For instance because available activities nearby are dispersed over a large area.  In such case, asylum-seekers do not always have the means to transport themselves easily to the nearest town or activity due to the inability to ride a bike,  or because they do not have money for public transport. It may also be because there simply are no activities or facilities available. An employee of buddy to buddy vividly told me:

“By car it [going to another town] might take you 20 minutes. But by public transport you will be on the road for an hour and a half. When you are in a very small town, like Keppel, you have to be lucky if there is a local ‘neighbourhood’ bus, but other than that, there is hardly anything”.

As some local communities can be conservative and reserved, networking with natives becomes extra hard. This leads to isolation amongst asylum-seekers and refugees, consequently negatively impacting their personal development and integration. Yet, there also seem to be local inhabitants who are active in engaging with people residing in nearby AZCs, some of them being engaged as volunteers for organizations like Stichting de Vrolijkheid and the Dutch Council for Refugees (Vluchtelingenwerk).

Personal development

Some people, they try to improve themselves. (…) it is not easy to handle these feelings, but finally you have to if you want to do something for yourself. You have to learn how to handle that situation, it is really important for your mental health. (Jeff , 28 years old from Venezuela)              

The asylum-seekers participating in my research, did not have any activities provided in, or near the AZC. A common phrase in every conversation with my research participants was ‘there’s nothing to do here’. However, they have found ways to develop themselves despite the restrictions that come with the liminal position and despite the fact that they are so remotely located.

In my research, I have used visual methods to co-create knowledge with participants. They took pictures of places they like to go, things they are proud of and goals for the future. Through photographs that research participants have taken, I will point out some of these activities that contribute to personal development.

Language learning

Well, I feel proud when I apply knowledge on the street or with someone. My computer and my book have helped me explain myself and for that I feel grateful. (Manuel 18 Venezuela)

It may seem obvious to start learning a the language of the host country, but for most asylum-seekers in the Netherlands, it really is not. As language learning is not officially allowed until a refugee status has been granted, many asylum-seekers learn Dutch by themselves by purchasing study books, going to taalcafés (language cafes) or actively reaching out to locals in order to study Dutch. Most of my research participants have found learning Dutch a must in order to be able to integrate. Besides them viewing it as a necessity, it also provided them with a sense of competence and success when they communicate in Dutch with locals.

Recreational activities

When I start the activity, the sport. I really don’t think that I am going to do that and it was the beginning of the new me. Because I started to feel a little bit confident on myself. And that encouraged me to apply to university. Because I thought ‘if I can do this, I can do whatever’. (Gloria, 23 years old from Peru)

What remains, when there are few organized activities, and little organizations nearby, are self-initiated recreational activities. One of my main findings was that recreational activities that are not necessarily intended to bring forth personal growth, often do lead to personal development. Activities that are meant as a time passing in liminality, contribute to reflection and sense of personality. They also help to build self-confidence and provide meaning during a period in which people may have lost it. Think for example of writing stories, drawing, dancing and doing sports.

Take for example mountain biking. It is outdoors, healthy and gives a true adrenaline rush. Several asylum-seekers in my research have mentioned working out in nature. Mostly, this started as a way to be outside the AZC, away from a place that is generally considered depressing. Soon, participants noticed personal development.  For example, one participant has explained the meaning of mountain biking as follows: ‘And I think the word will be freedom. Feel the freedom, that you could get riding a bike’. For him, mountain biking turned out to be synonymous to the freedom that does not exist in his country of origin. As mentioned in the quote above, biking has also led to self-confidence and decision-making that lead to personal growth, such as applying to college. Also other ways of being in nature have proven to be of importance to asylum-seekers in rural areas. These range from running, walking, reading or merely ‘being’ in nature. According to participants, they lead to a sense of peace, reflection and well-being.

Mindshift changes

Staying in the AZC, means living with people from all over the world. Everyone has a different background and a different story. And the realization of this, made my research participants describe themselves as having become more open-minded and humble. This is due to spending time with people from all over the world, and ‘making it work together’ as a multicultural community. As many of my research participants have mentioned, the stories of others, the habits of others; learning why others do what they do, have made them more tolerant and insightful and helped them to see the good in other people. One participant has mentioned: “The experience of being in exile and living in this type of community makes people humble and a lot of people should, how to say? Well, yeah. Experience it! Not in a bad way. It would be good for people. To see the good in other people”.

In the end, it turns out that in the liminality experienced in an AZC can undermine personal development. Partly because of all the rules and regulations that come with living in the AZC, such as not being allowed to learn Dutch officially. In rural shrinking areas specifically, such feelings of liminality can be reinforced by long distances and feelings of isolation. However, for most of the AZC residents I talked to, the center as a place and community can also  contribute to personal development, as asylum-seekers have noticed personal growth in how to handle intercultural communication and becoming more open-mined. Self-initiated activities that are used to pass the time waiting for a decision on the asylum application, may lead to spontaneous and self-led personal development.

* The pictures are made by the participants of the study and published in this blog with their consent.

Co-designing an inclusive Europe: Join our policy roundtable Brussels 1 March 2022

Migrations and migrants in the EU: Changing narratives – modifying practices – influencing policies

Including migrants in the European Union has not been a uniform process and has revealed several obstacles in the path of making the inclusion and integration of people on the move efficient, humane, and dignified. This roundtable aims at sharing the findings from ten Horizon2020 projects on legal protection of refugees and migrants, on the (economic, cultural, political) impact of their presence on local, regional, or European constituencies, on innovative solutions to enhancing integration and cohesion, and on the role of domestic agents.

This roundtable will bring together researchers, practitioners, journalists, and policy-makers to discuss the potential of re-interpreting existing narratives, to present good practices resulting from the ongoing projects, and to inform political decision-making processes.

The programme consists of two parts: The morning session will include two parallel panels dedicated to (i) Economic, legal, and social factors and practices of inclusion, as well as (ii) Fostering exchange and challenging narratives in cultural spaces. Policy recommendations, policy papers, good practices, and innovative solutions of the projects will be shared.

During a following panel discussion in the afternoon, the project representatives will share the floor with stakeholders, addressing questions posed by a moderator and the audience.

This event offers a rare opportunity to engage with various researchers and practitioners from 34 countries including 21 EU countries, representing a total of 135 institutions. Get insights into state-of-the-art fieldwork and practices and learn about solutions that have been tested on the ground.

Please find more information on the event and involved projects on our website.

Due to Covid restrictions, only a limited number of on-site participants is possible. However, the hybrid event will offer both online and on-site audiences the opportunity to pose questions and comments at involved researchers and policy-makers. To join us online, please register here.

PhD School in Soria: Reflections from a nurturing exchange

By María Molinari (University of Turin)*

This year, I received an interesting invitation from the MATILDE project to attend the International PhD School on Migration and Socio-ecological Change organized by Utrecht University and the Welcoming Spaces Consortium. It was a school for PhD researchers that consisted of two online sessions and one on-site session: the first part consisted of an introduction with open discussion in March 2021, and the second part was more dedicated to peer review discussions among participants lectures and field visits in Soria, Spain, during the last days of September.

The PhD school took the form of a meeting of scholars and doctoral researchers from different disciplines working on the same broad topic: migration and local development in European rural areas. During the School days, a main question was posed as the leitmotif of the discussions: How to contribute to just and sustainable futures in depopulating and socioeconomically marginalised European localities, while at the same time offering a ´welcoming space´ for non-EU migrants to pursue their life projects?

After the isolation, we suffered due to the Covid 19-related confinements, the opportunity to hold face-to-face discussions helps strengthening bonds among the network of PhD researchers established in the two previous online sessions of the school. But the on-site meeting in Soria offered us not only the opportunity to create and consolidate interpersonal relationships and to gain an in-depth understanding of each other’s work. It also provided an opportunity to visit a very special area within rural Spain and to meet with a diversity of residents therein. We had the opportunity to listen and discuss with the inhabitants of two villages, namely Yanguas and San Esteban de Gormaz, both in Soria province, and to reflect on the differences and similarities with our own case studies.

Reflections from the field

Yanguas, which name derives from ianuas (“door” in Latin), is a small municipality of a bit over ninety inhabitants located between the region of Soria and La Rioja. Of Celtiberian pre-Roman origin, Yanguas was located on the road that connected Numanzia and Calahorra and gained importance during the Roman war against Numanzia, an ancient Celtiberian stronghold that resisted the Roman conquest until its self-destruction. Yanguas is best known because it is mentioned in Chapter XV of Don Quixote, when its inhabitants beat up Don Quixote and Sancho for not being able to steer the mules that they were riding.

Picture by Alice Lomonaco

The meeting with some of the inhabitants, set in the local 14th-century castle, gave the PhD School participants an insight into the transformation of the village over the centuries. While until the beginning of the twentieth century, Yanguas was home to two thousand residents, today these not even reach a hundred. There are many actions that the townspeople take today to invite people to settle in the village, but the one that struck me most is the far-sighted action of the municipality, which has taken to heart the issue of housing.

Housing is the first glimmer that the dreamer sees to figure out his future in a new area

It is precisely in the houses, most of which are abandoned, that the municipality wanted to invest. It took charge of acquiring the abandoned house, applying for public funding to make it habitable and then selling it to the buyers at a reduced price. This facilitated the settlement of some newcomers who sometimes called on others to join. To accept the shortcomings of many services in the village and to have one’s own car are the preconditions for understanding the village and being able to accept it as it is, with its opportunities (a community life immersed in the beauty of the Soria region) and its limitations (such as the distance from basic and commercial services). In fact, most newcomers end up leaving the villages a trial period.

There was a lot to discuss among us PhD students about this experience, especially regarding the lack of knowledge by those running the migrant welcoming initiative about the actual reasons why most newcomers left after a trial period despite the available benefits. So, here lies the importance of properly understanding the problem. This resembles to that photo circulating on the internet about the bullet holes in the planes of the Second World War. The Allies mapped the bullet holes in planes hit by German anti-aircraft weaponry to understand the weak points of their aircrafts. They thought the way forward was to reinforce the worst hit areas and further armour the aircraft. However, they later realised that the bullet holes only represented the damage suffered by the aircrafts that made it back to base and not of those that were shot down. Thus, the areas that needed reinforcement were those where there were no holes, because if the aircraft and its pilot did not return home it was probably because those areas of the aircraft had been hit. In short, they were previously missing the “point of view” of the aircrafts that did not make it back to base.

We should give more voice to those who have left

Thus, I wonder how much energy do we devote to reinforce what we consider to be the weak points without sufficiently questioning the real reasons for the failures, the real motives of others, in our efforts to attract new settlers to depopulating areas? Perhaps we should give more voice to those who have left, sometimes with regret or resentment for not being understood. Sometimes the lack of services, job or housing are not the only reasons, but they are the ones we value most. However, there might be many other reasons of less material nature.

The second visit to San Esteban de Gormaz brought me home in a way because of the similarity between the Spanish Romanic architecture and that of many village churches in the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines in Italy.

The meeting with San Esteban´s mayor and councillors started with a walk showing us the main amenities and social services that are available in town. With over three thousand inhabitants, San Esteban offers adult education services, centres for the elderly and various schools. One of the active projects that struck me most is that of intergenerational training. Elderly residents are trained to “work” with children. They learn how to be with children, how to pass on their knowledge and share their precious time with the little ones. At the same time, the children learn about the importance of interpersonal relationships by listening to stories that they would not find on television or on tablets. In short, I found it a win-win approach in which both parties win and “gain”. In this way San Esteban makes use of its most valuable asset, and arguably the most commonly-available, namely the traditional knowledge of the ageing residents, for the benefit of the younger generations.

My take-aways from the PhD School

Enlightened by the experiences of Yanguas and San Esteban, and with the help of a smart facilitation, the PhD School participants compared these experiences with those in their own field research areas by identifying gaps, limitations, potentials as well as possible ways for improvement and topics for further research. In so doing, I found very helpful the mix of selected PhD researchers with diverse backgrounds and the role of the PhD School facilitators and other contributors during the lectures and panel discussions.

In fact, the PhD School in Soria proved to be a truly “welcoming space” not only in the sense of the project’s theme, but also regarding the welcoming attitude that each participant practiced during the School days among us, and towards the territories and residents that we had the chance to visit and meet. Although we have solid discussion networks, talking about fragile areas in a fragile Italy is often not enough to break down the sense of isolation and impotence that sometimes grips us all, whether we like it or not. But talking about fragile areas in an international context and together with people who share similar ideas and fears, made me realise that I am not alone in facing this new historical era that opens the door to a future that has yet to be planned. The exchange with our fellow human beings on both sides of the borders, including those who live in our own villages and to whom we seldom speak sometime, namely international migrant newcomers, has a great potential to offer valuable insights that we should seize in every moment of our work.

*Maria Molinari (maria.molinari@unito.it)

Maria graduated in Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology at the University of Bologna and after some development cooperation experiences abroad, Maria has been working on migrant inclusion in Italy since 2005. She has a master’s degree in intercultural studies at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia; a scholarship at the University of Parma; a postgraduate course in Museum and Art Anthropology at the University of Milan Bicocca, and courses in project management. Today, she has returned to her home village where she works as an nature guide and she’s active in planning, consulting and coordinating heritage projects. She is currently a PhD researcher in anthropology at the University of Turin in Italy.

The battles of Riace: A town torn between immigration and emigration

By Ester Driel (Utrecht University)

What can we learn from Riace, a ‘ghost town’ that revived socio-economically by hosting refugees, despite being located in a poor region mainly known for the ‘nDrangetha mafia? Is it possible to revitalize shrinking European areas while also offering a home to refugees? And also, what have been the consequences of the way in which the so-called ‘Riace model’ was dismantled and from the recent sentence against its pro-migration mayor Lucano, convicted to 13 years of prison? 

How it all started

In 1998, long before the so-called European ‘refugee crises’, 300 Kurdish refugees landed on Riace’s coast. In the absence of a formal national reception system for refugees that only got established years later, the Kurdish newcomers spontaneously received help from local volunteers. For weeks, youngsters were busy collecting mattresses and warm clothes to keep everyone warm,  while the older inhabitants cooked meals to ensure no one went to bed hungry. Temporarily, the refugees were hosted by locals or provided with shelter in the old local sanctuary of San Cosimo and Damiano.

One year after the arrival of this first boat, a group of young locals led by Domenico Lucano, who would later become Riace’s mayor, founded the NGO Città Futura Puglisi, named after a Sicilian priest who was murdered by the mafia. Together with the municipality, they developed an innovative settlement program for refugees, the so-called ‘Riace model’ that combined the reception of refugees with the revival of the local community. Various initiatives were started by local Italians and refugees together, such as the ‘laboratori’ (workshops) to revitalize local ancient crafts, the sustainable agricultural projects, and the restoration of the old town.

A local refugee of Riace working in the ceramics workshop, by now forcedly closed down. Photo by Ester Driel.

The main goal was to create a different socio-economic environment characterized by welcoming refugees and by actively combatting the exploitation and exclusion of migrants, which unfortunately were standard practices in the region. Riace’s refugees also perceived the town as a place where they were received with warmth and hospitality and had the opportunity to pursue a normal and dignified life. Also, their experiences in Riace stood in sharp contrast to the overcrowded asylum centers and to the exploitation and discrimination that they faced elsewhere in Europe:

“I got shot in Catanzaro – it was a hate crime, possibly fueled by the mafia. But after this incident “il sindaco” (the mayor), opened his heart to me, took me into his village and offered me this nice job. I never experienced racism here” (T., male, refugee, construction worker for Città Futura)

The story of Riace led to large international media attention, such as films, documentaries, and academic publications, and in 2016 mayor Lucano even got listed in Fortune magazine as one of the worlds’ 50 greatest leaders. Moreover, many other towns copied the Riace model, which also inspired the foundation of a national system that financially supported such initiatives. But, unfortunately, this success also incited intimidation and violence by people who tried to maintain the old power balance, often affiliated with the ‘Ndrangetha mafia. The last violent attack in Riace took place in 2009 when members of the ‘Ndrangetha attempted to shoot the mayor through the glass door of Riace’s solidarity restaurant, where he was having dinner. Despite such intimidations, the mayor continued running the associations and the program that further expanded until 2018.

From emigration to population growth

Like many other shrinking, rural European regions, Calabria suffered from waves of emigration[1]. Firstly, many people left for America between the Italian unification in 1861 and the Great Depression of the 1930s after World Wars I and II. The emigration peaked again in the 1960s and ‘70s when many moved to Northern Italy during the industrial boom. Due to poverty, a corrupted political system, and the traditional power of the ‘Ndrangheta mafia, Calabria remains an undeveloped area with high unemployment and an aging population, pushing the emigration crisis to continue nowadays. 

In this context, the Riace-model is exceptional, as it demonstrated that the reception of refugees could turn the tide for a dying town. In only a few years, the local school reopened. Businesses flourished again thanks to refugees who were both customers and employees. The population even grew again from about 1.600 in 2001 to over 2.300 in 2016. In this period, on average, about 400 to 500 refugees resided in Riace. The rest of the population growth was because the new young generation was able to stay in Riace to work in the refugee projects instead of feeling forced to emigrate. For example, a young inhabitant who lived in many countries for work but came back to Riace and worked in a refugee project explained:

“I travelled the world, and realized that Riace really is not a bad, or actually even a very good and special place – compared to other cities. A small town, that serves as an example of hospitality towards migrants, of different ways to create a social and fair economy” (V., male inhabitant, 28)

Interestingly, the changing social climate, the decreasing power of mafia related-forces, and the improved socio-economic conditions in town also inspired older emigrants to come back. One of them (a young social worker) vividly remembered the story of his father who was forced to leave Riace ‘back in the old days, but who by now had safely returned to his family in Riace:

“..back in the days, my father did a “job” for them [referring to the local mafia]. A ‘capo’ (local boss) approached him, because the word was on the street that my father, back then a healthy young man, could be of help with the escape of an important clan member. After this ‘success’, the mafia approached my father again, but he did not want get caught up in that world. Therefore, he joined friends in Northern Europe to find work there, where he stayed for years..”

Is there a future for the ‘Riace-model’?

Despite the success stories above, the tide seems to have turned for Riace. Nowadays, the fight against Riace’s approach seems to have shifted from violent ‘Ndrangheta in the early 2000s to the legal and bureaucratic arena. The appointment of the far-right minister of the interior, Salvini, resulted in Italy’s more restrictive migration and integration policies. The government abolished the scholarship that allowed refugees to work under Decree Law 113/2018 and replaced a national system that financially supported all asylum seekers with a system that merely offers financial support to recognized refugees. Additionally, a legal process – that is considered by many a political process –  was started against the pro-migration mayor Domenico Lucano.

On September 30, Riace’s former mayor and current NGO-leader Domenico Lucano was sentenced to over 13 years in prison for abetting illegal migration and for ‘irregularities’ in the management of asylum seekers. In addition, he has to pay a fine of 700.000 euro. An example of the ‘crimes’ of Lucano is that he aimed to help a Nigerian woman, who had been forced into sex work, to marry a local Italian man to prevent her from being exploited. He was sentenced with 25 other locals, such as social workers and project leaders who, in the midst of Europe’s refugee crises, gave all their time and energy to help the many refugees that were sent to Riace by the Prefect, often on a voluntary base due to the delay of public funding.

At the 60th anniversary of the famous ‘Peace Walk’ from Perugia to Assisi on October 10, 2021, many people took banners to express their solidarity with Domenico Lucano. Photos by Gianluca Palma.

This sentence was received with much upheaval and sparked protests in cities across Italy, as it was twice as long as requested by the prosecutors and because other criminals that include murderers received lower sentences, such as the man who beat the young Nigerian Emmanuel Chidi Namdi to death in 2018 and got only four years of house arrest. Moreover, the supreme court of cassation, the highest court of appeal in Italy, previously dismissed all the charges in a 2018 case against Lucano by the Guardia di Finanzia, and even referred to them as “crimes committed for morally appreciable purposes”.  

Though this previous decision by the highest court of appeal makes some Italian experts hopeful about the appeal of the current sentence, the damage to Riace’s reception program has already been done. The town is rapidly on its way to change from being a village of immigration and an example of hospitality to becoming a ghost town once again. The number of refugees has dropped significantly, and local Italians who worked in the refugee projects have lost their jobs and emigrated to search for work elsewhere. As a result, the total number of inhabitants in the municipality declined from 2,313 in 2017 to 1,869 in 2021.      

However, what gives hope is that the socio-economic revitalization of Riace and similar towns has inspired an increasing number of other shrinking European communities to initiate programs for refugees. The social composition of these shrinking communities is often quite similar to Riace, and they struggle with similar challenges. Therefore the lessons learned in the development of the Riace-model can give them crucial guidance. For now, let’s hope that we continue to remember and live the values which the people of Riace taught to the world. The Riace-model showed us that hospitality and solidarity towards those in need and sustainable local development can go hand in hand and that migration is not a threat to “fortress Europe”.


[1] Borzomati, P. (1982). L’Emigrazione calabrese dall’Unità ad oggi: atti del II Convegno di studio della Deputazione di Storia Patria per la Calabria, Polistena 6-7, Rogliano 8 dicembre 1980. Centro studi emigrazione.

Learning in and from a marginalized-but-welcoming Europe

By Alberto Alonso-Fradejas (Utrecht University)

How to contribute to just and sustainable futures in depopulating and socioeconomically marginalised European localities, while at the same time offering a ´welcoming space´ for non-EU migrants to pursue their life projects? It was with this question in the back of our minds and the thrill of meeting face to face that we travelled to Soria, Spain, during the last week of September 2021 for the on-site phase of the International PhD School on Migration and Socioecological Change.

We were a crew from thirteen different countries in Europe and beyond, including eighteen PhD researchers, nine instructors, three babies and the same number of lovingly baby-sitting fathers. The PhD School was sponsored by Utrecht University´s Focus Area on Migration & Societal Change and organized by the International Development Studies Group of the Human Geography and Spatial Planning Department at the Faculty of Geosciences, in collaboration with the partners of the Welcoming Spaces Consortium.

After two previous online sessions, the intensive week-long programme of the PhD school in Soria run on a learning by doing methodology that combined conceptual-methodological discussions with field visits. There were lectures, peer-review sessions, walk-shops, and a “methods fest” including workshops on aesthetic and visual methodologies, participatory action research, intercultural competences and diversity, and a framework for the analysis of multi-dynamic politics of migration and socioecological change. But special attention was devoted to the participants´ hands-on experience on the complexities behind the “emplacement”[1] of migrant newcomers and older residents in demographically shrinking and socioeconomically marginalized small and mid-sized towns in Europe. To this end, our colleagues from Cepaim Foundation and the University of Valladolid welcomed us in such a unique region for the PhD School purposes as Soria. With a distinct blend of Celtiberian, Roman and Arabic historical traits, Soria city and the towns and landscapes part of the province with the same name show a great deal of cultural and natural wealth. However, Soria was left behind the Spanish industrial bandwagon of the Twentieth Century to fall into a downward spiral of socioeconomic marginalization and depopulation. With less than two inhabitants per square kilometre Soria is known today as the ´Lapland of the South´, in direct reference to the sparsely populated Finnish territory in the Artic circle, and stands at the core of the so-called ´Emptied Spain´.

A walk through the challenging ´new trails´ of an ancient region

Residents, civil society organizations, and local and regional governments in Soria are joining forces to fight back shrinkage and marginalization through a diversity of (re)development efforts. These include  initiatives to attract and facilitate the settlement of new residents. A particularly interesting initiative on this regard is led by PhD School host and Welcoming Spaces consortium member Cepaim Foundation. Since 2006, Cepaim´s “Nuevos Senderos” (New Trails) project promotes the professional and social participation of migrant families in shrinking areas. As expected, this is easier said than done and these pathbreaking sociocultural ´new trails´ are anything but smooth. The PhD School participants had the opportunity to ´walk´ these new trails and discuss the challenges and opportunities for migrant settlement and area development with representatives from local governments, educational and environmental institutions, and civil society organizations in the Sorian towns of Yanguas and San Esteban de Gormaz.

With less than 100 residents and sitting at more than 1,100 metres above sea level, Yanguas is a well-preserved medieval town that was declared a National Historic-Artistic Site in 1993. It also features in the list of ´the most beautiful towns in Spain´. For more than a decade now, the Municipality of Yanguas has been running a decent housing & employment programme to attract new residents. As a result, a few migrants from other areas of Spain as well as from Argentina, Ecuador, Morocco and Romania have settled in Yanguas. This has helped to keep the village alive and to re-open the primary school. But as our informants explained to us, nine out of ten newcomers end up leaving shortly after arrival. They felt this was due to the lack of amenities and the difficult access to education, health and other social services in a town which is some 48 kilometres away from Soria city.

With Yanguas´ deputy mayor in front of Santa Maria´s church. Source: PhD School participants.

Meeting with residents and municipality representatives at Yanguas´ castle. Source: PhD School participants.

Despite being 20 kilometres further than Yanguas from Soria city, San Esteban de Gormaz is home to a bit more than 3,000 residents. The town combines its medieval architecture and unique Romanic churches with a wide range of social services. But it also enjoys a favourable geographical location at 850 metres above sea level and along the fertile banks of the Duero river. This allows for the production of high-quality Ribera del Duero wines. In fact, the PhD School participants who were up to it had the chance to taste San Esteban´s wine. This was thanks to the hospitality of the local government and of 78-year-old Don Pablo who kindly invited us to visit his traditional underground winery and taste the wine he makes there. In San Esteban, the municipality and civil society organizations behind the EU´s LEADER programme Local Action Group (LAG) have been implementing a participatory local development plan in recent years. As a result, San Esteban´s mayor argued that they now offer high school, vocational and adult education services, managed to build two public sports centers, and are home to a district-level healthcare facility and fifteen commercial wineries. This has also attracted new residents from other parts of Spain, Europe, Africa and Latin America, and helped others to remain in town.

However, our hosts also explained to us the complex challenges their local development plan faces. For instance, San Esteban is at pains to keep its wide range of social services running due to the lack of professionals willing to settle there. There is also a lack of housing for migrants interested to work in the wineries and other agricultural ventures. And San Esteban´s benefit package to investors, including cheap land and soil tax waivers, cannot compete with similar ones offered in more vibrant and relatively close areas like Madrid. Moreover, there is still a long way to go for migrant newcomers from other cultural and religious backgrounds to feel at home in San Esteban. During our visit to the adult education centre we had the chance to hold a conversation with two Moroccan and one Algerian women who enrolled in a Spanish language course. Whereas they made an overall positive assessment of their live in San Esteban, they still miss a madrasa for their children to learn Arabic.

With Don Pablo at his traditional underground winery in San Esteban. Source: PhD School participants.

A nurturing learning experience that deserves a follow-up

In Yanguas and San Esteban de Gormaz, two extremely different places with common histories and current challenges, the PhD School participants were confronted with some of the many and diverse ups and downs in the new trails towards the socially-just and environmentally-sound emplacement of migrant newcomers and older residents of the Emptied Spain. But we were also witnesses to the eagerness of all Sorian residents to address these wicked problems and to the high stake these issues have in the political agenda. The PhD School in Soria enjoyed the support and attention from multiple actors, including from the regional public news channel.  

It was precisely the warm welcoming the School received, together with the unmatched commitment, hard work and positive attitude of the PhD researchers, facilitators and hosts, that made of the PhD School a highly nurturing experience in scholarly, societal and personal terms. To be continued! 


[1] For Glick Schiller and Çağlar (2016, p. 21), “emplacement can usefully be definedas the social processes through which a dispossessed individual builds or rebuilds networks of connection within the constraints and opportunities of a specific city”.