The Riace model and the Domenico Lucano case. Is another world possible?

By Alice Lomonaco (Bologna University)

On 30 September 2021, the Court of Locri sentenced former Mayor of Riace Domenica Lucano to 13 years and two months in prison. The judges accused him of criminal association aimed at aiding and abetting irregular immigration, abuse of office, fraud, extortion, embezzlement, bid-rigging, and ideological falsification. In addition, he will have to return €500,000 of European funds.

The severity of this sentencehas been described as unexpected and unusual (A. Camilli, Internazionale, 8th October 2021). The Court of Locri doubled the penalty requested by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, accusing Lucano of being the head of a criminal association for the purpose of aggravated fraud and embezzlement – that is, using funds allocated for the reception of migrants for other purposes.

Domenico Lucano was Mayor of Riace (Reggio Calabria) from 2004 to 2018 (until he was suspended) and had become known internationally for his pro-migrant reception position. The Riace model was based on a vision of an alternative and welcoming society in which everyone, regardless of origin, language or culture, participates in the life of a community in order to find their place, as he recalls in his book Il fuorilegge (2020).

Riace, June 2021

Like many other municipalities in Calabria and southern Italy, Riace has been marked by a strong emigration of its inhabitants, who after World War II left one of the poorest areas in Europe in search of new life opportunities in northern Italy and abroad. In 1951 the population of Riace was 2,331, but depopulation continued inexorably until the 1980s, when 1,668 residents remained. To fight the depopulation of Riace and deal with global migration, Mayor Lucano opted for an integration of migrants into the life of the village, leading to a considerable increase in the population (from 1,610 in 2001 to 1,869 in 2021, with a peak of 2,345 residents in 2016). Through the recovery of uninhabited houses, renovation of infrastructure, and investment in local crafts, the local economy was rehabilitated. This also made it possible to support the education and training of migrants, demonstrating that “another world is possible”.

The Riace model had been recognised by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), attracting international interest and inspiring numerous reception projects in Italy and abroad. Lucano’s work paved an different path to the depopulation of villages, imagining an alternative for a region that is a “land of consumption” (il Manifesto, 3rd October 2021) and typically dependent on the economic growth of central and northern regions.

The Riace model was a symbol of redemption of the margins. First, territorial margins of a region like Calabria, which paid for its entry into modernity by providing cheap arms for industrial development in the North Italy and Europe. Second, human margins – as migrants are often considered –  creating alliances and development projects for a solidarity-centred, sustainable, and innovative renaissance.

Lucano’s legal troubles began in 2008, when he was placed under house arrest and suspended from his position as mayor. Two weeks later, the Court of Reexamination of Reggio Calabria banned him from staying in Riace, as an alternative to house arrest. The Riace reception project was closed a month after Lucano’s arrest, although the Council of State later ruled in favour of the appeal filed by the Mayor. The Council defined the closure of the reception center as illegitimate and the behaviour of the Ministry of the Interior as ‘hostile’ towards Lucano, having dismantled a project that he had supported and financed until a few months earlier.

In 2019, Lucano was indicted, as the Public Prosecutor’s Office accused him of arranging a marriage of convenience. At the basis of the accusation is a telephone conversation in which Lucano talks about the possibility of obtaining citizenship for a woman who had been denied asylum three times, by marrying a Riace inhabitant. The Public Prosecutor’s Office also accused him of illegally assigning waste collection services, between 2012 and 2016, to two cooperatives – which employed migrants – that were not registered in the regional register (as required by law), and without inviting tenders . The Court, in fact, had found no evidence of “fraudulent behaviour” by the former Mayor in awarding services to those cooperatives.

Lucano was then also accused of fraud because some migrants lived in apartments that weren’t certified as “habitable”. In 2019, he received a further notice of indictment for issuing identity documents to an Eritrean woman and her infant son who weren’t in possession of a residence permit. As Lucano told us during an interview in Riace in June 2021, it was part of his idea of integration, a political idea of reception. In his words: ‘But they were the ones who called me, they were the ones who asked me to take in so many people, humans, because they had nowhere to put them… and I took them in… I committed a crime of humanity’.

Lucano’s “outlawed” actions were consciously carried out in contravention of laws that he considered unjust and detrimental to the rights of immigrants and inhabitants of Riace. These actions did not give provide him with any personal or political benefit. Lucano’s legal sentence also seems to be a vicious attack on a project that has successfully shown the potential of regenerating shrinking areas by establishing welcoming spaces.

Digitalisation of services and measures for migrant integration: Are the inner areas losers or winners?

By Irene Ponzo (FIERI)

How can digitalisation help inner areas to improve integration services and initiatives? This was one of the key questions addressed during the three-day training (22-23 September 2021) co-organised in Turin (Italy) by Welcoming Spaces and the AMIF-funded national-based project “CapacityMetro Italia”. The aim was to identify common challenges and solutions and support inner areas in catching the opportunities offered by the Next Generation Fund to improve integration opportunities.

During the first day participants worked in sub-groups to identify common challenges, in the second day experts and inspiring local experiences provided food for thoughts, while the final day was aimed at exploring possible common solutions through the drafting of fictional projects. 

Potentials of digitalisation emerged as substantial for inner areas. Since services require a critical mass of potential beneficiaries to be economically and politically sustainable, in smaller municipalities they are either physically distant or provided on part-time basis (even only once a week) and accessing them may be problematic. These hurdles could be partially overcome with the development of online services. Yet, we can’t sell the fur before killing the bear.

Participants pointed out how so far in Italy digitalisation of services has been a process promoted by the central government and limited to nation-wide services while it is not even an issue of debate in the vast majority of inner areas. This brings about the risk of a top-down digitalisation of services with a little attention for the specific necessities of local communities and a consequent mismatch between actual needs and proposed solutions. Hence, a diversity-sensitive mapping of needs and demands should be the first step of service digitalisation. To underevaluate the implications of digitalisation for services’ internal organisation is another likely risk: if workload could decline on some tasks, it may increase on others so that a revision of tasks, competences and ways of working is necessary. An example brought during the training was that of the Italian App to track Covid-19 contagion, “Immuni”, which miserably failed since the it was developed without considering that the already overwhelmed local health services, not properly enhanced, would be unable to carry out the additional task of inserting the infected people’s data into the Immuni database. Furthermore, we have to consider that small organisations and services of inner areas may not have the human resources to plan and implement the necessary internal reorganisation.

Concerning the individual level, the lack of digital devices and skills appears as a problem shared by both service employees and service users, especially elderly people and migrants. Language is another hurdle: on one hand, people with a migrant background may have a poor knowledge of the Italian language which further hampers the understanding of online instructions; on the other hand, services tend to use a bureaucratic language unsuitable for online communication.

Another critical factor is the underdevelopment of support services. The possibility to have face-to-face support is particularly important for recently arrived and/or marginalised migrants to make up for the lower knowledge of the context and the possible misreading of situations due to cultural differences.

Solutions identified by the participants in our training event are diverse, among which: “digital mediators” that could bridge either digital gaps or cultural gaps; a mixed approach to digitalisation with info points scattered over the territory providing device-sharing options and support to access digital services; the systematic inclusion of digital components in adult education and vocational training.

Finally, the drafting of a fictional project for people with health problems, including asylum seekers, highlighted how online communities of users could complement the provision of digital services to connect medical staff and patients living in inner areas where health units are scarce. Rather than rating service quality, user communities may allow their members to increase awareness and acceptance of health problems (especially across different “health cultures”), share difficulties and offer mutual support in a community-welfare perspective.

To conclude, according to the stakeholders convened in Torino, depending on concrete measures adopted, digitalisation can either reduce or widen inequalities in service access between large cities and small municipalities. Risks of a negative outcome are high and cannot be neglected. Many Italian inner areas are not yet equipped to catch the train of the Next Generation EU Fund and risk to be on the losing side of top-down digitalisation processes. Hence, it would be crucial to conceive digitalisation as a social rather than a mere technical process and foster participatory planning where inhabitants of inner areas, including newcomers, may have a voice and develop tailored solutions where needed.

Welcoming spaces picked up by local news in Soria, Spain

From 27 September to 1 October, the International PhD School on Migration and Socio-ecological Change took place organised by Utrecht University´s Focus Area on Migration & Societal Change and the International Development Studies Group of the Human Geography and Spatial Planning department at the Faculty of Geosciences, in collaboration with Fundación Cepaim in Soria and the partners of the Welcoming Spaces Consortium.

How to contribute to fair and sustainable development of European localities other than large metropolis while at the same time offering a welcoming space for non-EU migrants to pursue their life projects?

It led to many inspiring discussions and reflections and field visits to Yanguas and San Esteban de Gormaz, where migrants became part of new future perspectives in an area marked by severe depopulation and social innovation.

At our last day the local news visited the closing symposium: ¿Puede la emigración paliar el problema de la despoblación?

Academic seminar on Migration and Socio-ecological Change, 1 October, Soria

How to contribute to the fair and sustainable development of European localities other than large metropolis while at the same time offering a welcoming space for non-EU migrants to pursue their life projects?

This is the question driving the International PhD School on Migration and Socio-ecological Change organised by Utrecht University´s Focus Area on Migration & Societal Change and 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.

The PhD school takes place in Soria from 27 September to 1 October and will finish with a public seminar Migration and socio-ecological change on Friday October 1st. Please sign up by sending an email to More specifics about the programme:

DAMR PhD event – Exploring Migration in Rural Areas

A large part of research in migration studies focuses on urban centers. Context-specific social processes surrounding international migration to and diversity in rural regions, small villages and marginalized, or downscaled, areas have been widely omitted by scholarship and policy. However, the often specific social make-up, community structures and spatial developments in those areas, may bring about dynamics that are different from those in big cities.

In this workshop, the Dutch Association for Migration Research (DAMR) invites early career researchers, PhD candidates, post-Doc researchers and master students, who are keen to shift, decenter or broaden the focus on international migration into rural areas to come together.

The workshop consists of two parts: a first co-creation session in which we will explore topics/questions on conceptual and methodological issues of migration research in rural areas. The outcomes of this session will provide input for the second part, a panel discussion with notable rural scholars: Prof. Michael Woods, Prof. Birgit Glorius, Dr. Marlies Meijer, Prof. Sarah Neal and Dr. Rosario Sampredro. The panel will be followed by small-group workshops with the speakers, and provides the ability for the participants to further dive into a specific question or issue.


The event will consist of two sessions, the first takes place on 2nd June 2021, 10-12.30h and the second meeting is on 16th June 10-12 and 14-16h.

Sign up:

To apply and prepare for the event we ask you to fill in the following form on or before Friday, May 28th.

More information:

For content questions contact Jana Finke: or Rianne Hadders: For practical questions, please email Jana-Sarah Hönnige:

Call for papers on Migrations/Mediations – Promoting transcultural dialogue through media, arts and culture

Comunicazioni Sociali. Journal of Media, Performing Arts and Cultural Studies has announced a call for papers for their special issue:

Migrations / Mediations. Promoting transcultural dialogue through media, arts and culture, eds. Pierluigi Musarò, Nikos Papastergiadis, Laura Peja (n. 1/2022, due in April 2022)

This special issue of Comunicazioni Sociali intends to invite international scholars, artists and practitioners to discuss through interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary perspectives 1) the role of media, arts and culture in the management of policies and practices devoted to migration phenomena; 2) the ways and the degrees in which media, arts and culture have been considered as critical tools for transcultural dialogue; 3) the ways in which media, arts and culture have been used in processes of artistic creation within the framework of the “aesthetic cosmopolitanism”; 4) ways through which models of action in territories oriented toward bringing host populations into contact with migrants and refugees can be developed; 5) the specific set of tools and methodology that have been developed to assess social, cultural and economic impact of multi-, inter- and transcultural dialogue activities through arts, media and culture.

More information on the topics and submission details can be found here.

Call for papers on the legacies of forced migrations

Society Register would like to announce a call for papers on the legacies of forced migrations. The issue will focus on social, cultural, political and economic transformations brought about by forced migrations or displacements in different regions of the world. From the end of World War II to the present day, millions of people have been forced to flee because of armed conflicts, civil wars, border changes, violence, persecution, development projects, natural disasters, environmental degradation and trafficking of people. Forced migrations brought about multifaceted social change for people who left their homes, those who had lived with them before and for those who met them later.

We encourage you to send articles on the social, cultural and political legacies of forced displacements. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches are welcome. The analytical focus may fall on recent displacement events and the long-term consequences of forced migrations in the past.

Submissions may pertain to the following topics:

  • The consequences of displacement on the displaced and host communities
  • Displacements and individual/social memory
  • Social representations of the ‘displaced’ and ‘refugee’
  • The protection of refugees
  • Displacement and transformations of place, power and social ties
  • Representations of displacement and forced migration in media and art
  • Security and forced migration

We would like to invite you to submit your articles. The procedure is following:

The date for submission of the completed article is June 30, 2021. In order to submit the full paper authors must register on the “Society Register” webpage.

All papers will be subject to the Society Register review regime. The volume will be published in 2021. Please comply with the editing requirements of the American Sociological Association (ASA). While preparing your article please remember also about the Authors Guidelines. Shall you have any questions, feel free to write to Guest Editors:

Michał Nowosielski, Centre of Migration Research, University of Warsaw

Piotr Cichocki, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań

Expected date of publication: December 2021

Welcoming Spaces European Meet-up

On the last Friday of March, the Welcoming Spaces team hosted initiatives, social organisations, businesses, policy makers, local authorities and researchers from all over Europe in a celebration of the first anniversary of the Horizon 2020 project Welcoming Spaces in Europe.

We celebrated our progress and cooperation over the last year and created a space for an exchange of practices, ideas and experiences between the different actors present – all from diverse international and professional backgrounds that provide them with different and important perspectives on the ways shrinking regions and migrants can become connected in mutually enriching ways.

The meet-up was opened with a few guiding words by the Director of Welcoming Spaces, Prof. Zoomers, before diving into the pitches by four organisations working on welcoming initiatives that shared their innovative strategies on how they connect people and places.

The first pitch was about the Spanish foundation Cepaim, presented by Carmen Ayllón, Welcoming Spaces project broker. She introduced the nuevos senderos projects (“new paths”) by which Cepaim is working on social and labour inclusion of migrants in rural localities. Their core focus is to engage both migrants and local communities to contribute to the revitalisation and development of the rural areas. To reach this goal, Cepaim guides the process of emplacements of migrants in rural areas from an early stage, working closely with not only the migrant but also the local residents, to involve the full community in the process.  She remarked on the importance of revitalisation of rural areas in the Spanish context by showing the example of Spanish Lapland. In the experience of Cepaim, successful relocation of migrations to rural areas depends highly on accurate and detailed information and decent housing and job offers.

The next pitch was presented by Claudia Schneider, project leader of the German NGO Ökoherz e.V. She described how the roots of the NGO lie in the region of Thuringia where they help farmers engage in social farming practices, facilitating for example the integration of intellectually disabled people. Later, she said, they asked themselves if they could also work with refugees and quickly realised that their context provided great conditions to do so: they noticed that for many refugees coming from rural backgrounds in their home countries the familiar activities and the home on a farm had a healing effect. They also found that the engagement in farming provided good informal language learning opportunities and further opportunities to train skills and competences. Lastly, they also saw that for many refugees the possibility of paid work was important, giving them the opportunity to send money to support family members. Claudia also added that this development benefitted both sides, as the additional manpower was desperately needed by farmers in these rural depopulating areas.

Next, the Italian initiative Miledù was introduced by co-founder and senior researcher at Euricse, Giulia Galera. Miledù focuses on the social and labour-market integration of newcomers, especially refugees and asylum-seeking people in the peripheries of lake Como, and on bringing the business perspective and the eco-perspective together in rural areas. Employing migrants, they are following a holistic empowerment model which is based on multiple dimensions: the social, work and cultural dimension. By pursuing strategic economic fields such as the management of common goods with activities that include the production of edible flowers, restoration of drystone walls and beekeeping they manage to combine the enhancement of social cohesion, economic stability and environmental protection. Giulia also mentioned that she sees a strength in their small size with opportunities to upscale through collaboration.

The last pitch was about the Dutch/Belgian/German project In de zorg, uit de zorgen (“Into care to be carefree”) presented by project coordinator Romy van den Akker. The initiative is a collaboration of eight refugee, care and labour market organisations that work together closely with the aim of supporting refugees in finding a job or internship in the care sector. The initiative facilitates a specific education path for refugees with the ambition to find employment in the care sector. Participants could join the programme without prior knowledge or education and find out during the course of the programme what healthcare position fit them best, from becoming a nurse to more social healthcare positions. Eventually, the completion of the programme provided them with the guarantee for a paid job in the healthcare profession, more specifically in elderly care. In this way the programme manages to benefit both parties involved, as many of the regions in the three countries involved are experiencing severe labour shortages in the healthcare profession and the initiative manages to address this need.

These newly gained insights were then processed and discussed in small mixed teams giving everyone the chance to reflect on how these good practices could be adapted to their local contexts. Some interesting insights and further discussion points came out of this, as was revealed in the subsequent plenary harvest. The many great ideas voiced here were certainly inspiring and provided great food for thought that will be further discussed in future meetings.

Community of practice

Carmen Ayllón then introduced and invited everyone to join the Community of practice. The name stands for a broad network of stakeholders we aim to create as part of the Welcoming Spaces programme. Here, the focus is on local actors in the field, including local policy makers, those involved in the welcoming initiatives, and both newcomers and long-term residents, and broader, more overarching projects related to welcoming initiatives for newcomers and processes of revitalisation in shrinking region. The community of practice builds on the idea that despite the diversity in context everyone has the same shared goals and that a space for supporting each other and sharing thoughts could help the creation of solutions and possibilities on the ground.

A bright start for the International PhD School on Migration and Socioecological Change

How to contribute to the fair and sustainable development of European localities other than large metropolis while at the same time offering a welcoming space for non-EU migrants to pursue their life projects?

This is the question driving the International PhD School on Migration and Socioecological Change organized by Utrecht University´s Focus Area on Migration & Societal Change and 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.

The PhD School runs on a collaborative, interactive and transdisciplinary methodology which allows for PhD researchers to discuss their research plans and especially their ongoing outcomes with fellow PhD researchers, more senior scholars and non-academic experts and practitioners. The School kicked off last March 9 with an online “Intro Day” with the 17 registered PhD researchers from 11 countries. On March 12, the “Open Day” of PhD School gathered 8 speakers around two online roundtables with 57 participants. The main part of the PhD School involves a one week-long workshop in Soria (Spain) tentatively scheduled for the last week of September.

The PhD School is coordinated by Dr. Alberto Alonso-Fradejas from SGPL´s IDS group, and includes Dr. Bianca Szytniewski and Dr. Marlies Meijer from SGPL´s Geography & Education and Spatial Planning groups, respectively, among the members of the international facilitation team.


26 March 2021, 14.00-16.15 hrs.

Shrinking areas in Europe are marked by a decline in population as many, especially young people, move out. This also results in less availability of social services and socioeconomic stagnation. Which new opportunities can shrinking areas offer for migrants and who could bring new chances to shrinking areas? How can shrinking regions and migrants become connected in mutually enriching ways? To celebrate the first anniversary of the Horizon 2020 project Welcoming Spaces in Europe we would like to invite you to discuss successful bottom up-strategies to match international migrants and shrinking areas.

Initiatives, social organisations, businesses, policy makers and researchers from all over Europe are invited to present and discuss various successful approaches they take to facilitate first steps towards long-lasting settlement of newcomers in shrinking areas. Approaches to bring people and places together range from NGO’s supporting migrant families to move from the city to a suitable rural community, screening and matching of refugees and labor market regions through asylum authorities, businesses that attract skilled migrants through online networks, and initiatives to train and facilitate employment for refugees in specific sectors with labor shortage in shrinking areas, for example the care sector and ICT.

We cordially invite all to exchange good practices and first research results across Europe. To register for this event, please use think link:

For questions and more information please contact Rianne Hadders,


14.00 – Opening by Prof. Zoomers (International Development Studies, Utrecht University; Director Welcoming Spaces)

14.05 – Pitches Welcoming Initiatives:

Organisations working on welcoming initiatives share innovative strategies on how they connect people and places.

  • Cepaim Foundation (Spain). Speaker: Carmen Ayllón, project broker Welcoming Spaces. Project: New Paths project works on social and labour inclusion of migrants in rural localities, engaging both migrants and local communities to contribute to the revitalisation and development of the rural areas.
  • Ökoherz e.V. (Germany). Speaker Claudia Schneider, project leader. Project: The project focuses on unattended minors in social farming, agricultural projects that enhance inclusion and participation.
  • Miledù (Italy). Speaker: Giulia Galera, co-founder of Miledù and senior researcher at Euricse. Project: The initiative focuses on newcomers and brings the sustainability/business perspective and the eco-perspective together in rural areas.
  • In de zorg, uit de zorgen (Netherlands/Belgium/Germany). Speaker: Romy van den Akker, project Coördinator In de Zorg uit de Zorgen. Project: With the project In de Zorg – Uit de Zorgen, eight refugee, care and labour market organisations in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium support refugees in finding a job or internship in the care sector.

15.00 Workshop: how to match people & places

The initiatives that have pitched collaborate with small mixed teams of policy makers, practitioners, professionals, local authorities and researchers to answer the question: how can the good practices that the initiative presented be adapted to work in your region?

15:45-16.15 Report back and comment on discussions in workshops

Start 26 March 2021 – 14.00
Eind26 March 2021 – 16.15
RegistratiePlease register before March 20th 2 pm
Meer informatieRianne Hadders (