Conference ‘Welcoming Europe’? Understanding Migration In The Context Of Global Ageing, Depopulation And Rural-Urban Transformation- 21 June 2024

Current discussions about the link between migration – ageing – depopulation often end in polarised debates about whether or not migration is ‘the’ solution – the contribution migrants can make to
‘filling gaps’ and/or the revitalisation of shrinking areas. There are however multiple paradoxes and dilemmas. Based on the outcomes of our H2020 Welcoming Spaces programme (2019-2024) and multiple UU-related research programmes we want to broaden the debate – unravel the connections between ageing – shrinkage and migration; and come with concrete suggestions for achieving ‘spatial justice’ and ‘leaving no one behind’.

Helga de Valk, Director, Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute
Tanja Bastia, Professor, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester

For more information and to register:
Conference: ‘Welcoming Europe’? Understanding migration in the context of global aging, depopulation and rural-urban transformation – News & Events – Utrecht University (

A reflection: What is a newcomer?

By Jofelle P. Tesorio

For someone who has moved places, whether from Utrecht to Harlingen, or from Damascus to Arnhem, perspectives can be different. Are newcomers the only ones who need to adjust to the new cultures, new people, new environment, or should it be a two-way, perhaps a circular process? Newcomers could also mean new inspirations and new ways of thinking.

Sometime in July, in the beautiful city of Nijmegen, our Welcoming Spaces group collaborated with Samenwerkingsverband Burgerkracht Europa (SBE) to organize a symposium unpacking the question ‘who is a newcomer?’ where around 150 professionals and residents from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany came to discuss how, with mutual effort, everyone can shape the embedding of newcomers in the community in a positive way.

As countries with shared borders, the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium are often confronted with similar issues, and in many cases, coordinating, sharing experiences and knowledge help unpack the issues and identify best practices. Like other countries in Europe, dealing with newcomers is one of most pressing issues in the last years. How do newcomers see themselves into our communities? How can they best integrate or is ‘integration’ (‘integreren’ or ‘inburgeren’ in Dutch) the right word to use? As Wahabou Alidou, the coordinator of a citizen-led initiative for newcomers Colourful Het Hogeland, said, community members should ‘outegrate’ (‘uitburgeren’) to also learn from newcomers. The theme collaborating with newcomers is not a new concept but in the wake of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, this is timely to revisit and put into perspective. What can newcomers do to become part of the society, and what can communities do to ensure that they feel welcome? There are many similarities but also significant differences, in which we can learn from each other.

Telling stories and perspectives on once being newcomers and now part of the society. (Photo: Jofelle Tesorio/Welcoming Spaces)

Participants with migrant backgrounds engaged in a conversation wherein they were asked: Are you still a newcomer if you have been living in the country for 20 years? How do you manage to be part of the community? For them, there were no standard answers but common to their experiences was the need to connect with people, the community and to be able to feel that they were welcome.

“I always say to them, you survived, you are safe here and it is also genuinely nice to also show your gratitude by giving something back to the society where  you  are,” said Farisa from Arnhem. She added that while there is talk about conforming, the best way to collaborate with newcomers is not to be in front or behind them but beside them. “They will soon be able to find their own place in the future.”

Farhad, who volunteers at a reception center, said residents need to connect. “I told them you have to work, volunteer, no matter what it is…so you can make contact.”

The bright side

Welcoming spaces and initiatives are the bright side that are often invisible, says Prof. Dr. Zoomers. (Photo: Jofelle Tesorio/Welcoming Spaces)

The bright side, according to Prof. Dr. Zoomers, is that there are existing examples of ‘welcoming spaces’, but often remain invisible and dispersed in various European regions, which play a very important role in the reception of newcomers, but also  in working together with the newcomers.  She stressed that newcomers can really make a difference. “Thanks to the arrival of these migrants, schools  can remain, a hotel  can be reopened, shops  are opened, the industry  is  kept  afloat…” Explaining the outcome of the project, she stressed the harmonious relationship built around citizen and migrants-led welcoming initiatives, which are also often supported by NGOs and mayors. “I am very much convinced that mayors can really make an enormous difference. It is not hard for us to show this, and it is possible.”

While looking at this bright side, Welcoming Spaces is also gradually finding out about the number of restrictions for newcomers, which have to do with policies. Many migrants in general are not in preferred locations. “We can describe in many cases how harmoniously people work in small   locations and seem to keep  small  communities  afloat, but if  you put it from the perspective of newcomers themselves, their development opportunities are often  very limited.” She also posed a question on the distinction of newcomers from the point of view where they come from, which becomes ‘stigmatizing’. “In the end it does not help us build a bridge. If we do not talk about where people come from… If we manage to  fuel the debate  and  ask for more. What are you  going to do here? What contribution do you want to make? Then you get a completely different discussion.”

Newcomer policies: Belgian, Dutch, and German perspectives

While all three countries operate within the European asylum policy, there are also different perspectives, principles and realities.

Mayor Kees van Rooij of Meierijstad notes that we need to be aware it is a balancing act. At community level, people might be receptive of policies on integration and welcoming initiatives but he is also often told “our children also want a roof”, not just newcomers. “In all those discussions, you’re already trying to manage each other, in such a way that  you want to keep  some support, but also at the same time try to give  perhaps even an extra impulse for all those starters and all those young people  who also want  a home…”

In the Netherlands, the discussion is mainly on the shortage of collective places for asylum seekers and some are situated in municipalities where many people are against large shelters being built near them.

For Belgian Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Nicole De Moor it is also finding a balance.  “I try every   day  to  work  on a better migration policy, a  fair  migration policy, a  policy  whereby  we can protect people  fleeing from war or persecution… as well as for  people  who may  not  be  fleeing the war, but who want to come to   Europe  to  work or to study.”

According to her, there are many different channels, but there are also  many  challenges  that   come with it. The past few years have been ‘historic’ and particularly challenging year, she said, because of people fleeing from war  and  persecution  from  different  countries, including the Ukrainians.

She is in constant communication and meetings with her counterpart to learn and improve the Belgian system, for example in asylum reception and integration. Now, the federal government is in favor of voluntary asylum centers. They have about a hundred collective centers spread over different municipalities and local shelter initiatives, which are managed by municipalities on a voluntary basis. “These are municipalities that actually take over the task of federal asylum reception and often receive asylum seekers in many small-scale or individual homes.”  She said that they encourage local reception initiatives because those places are important for specific target groups of asylum seekers, people who may find it more difficult to join a collective center and “they are much better for integration”.

Workshops and ways of moving together

After the opening plenary, 14 interactive workshops followed. Based on concrete initiatives by residents, municipalities/governments and civil society organisations in Belgian-German-Dutch rural regions, the participants discussed specific themes in relation to newcomers. During the workshops and during breaks, the participants gathered suggestions for ways to look at collaborating with newcomers differently, creatively and good practices, which were discussed in the closing panel.

Listening and learning from each other. (Photo: Jofelle Tesorio/Welcoming Spaces)

Throughout the panels and breakout workshops, participants listened, shared experiences, and critically analysed various aspects of the theme. The following are the ideas for recommendations from the participants:

A. Collaborating with newcomers

  • Approach the newcomer by not asking where he/she came from
  • Talk to newcomers and not about newcomers; involve them more
  • Make the encounter easier by thinking along about possibilities
  • More newcomers are needed to use their experiences in the inclusion processes at support organisations
  • Have newcomer guides as coordinators and process supervisors
  • Introduce reciprocity for newcomers; think about volunteering
  • Build self-confidence and language skills through the active involvement of newcomers in the activities for and with newcomers
  • Questions about needs – what do newcomers need to find their way when they arrive and settle in. Start from what people themselves say they need or worry about

B. Policy and guidance

  • Treat all newcomers equally: both from Ukraine and from the rest of the unsafe countries
  • Ensure an integrated approach. Not to approach everything from the perspective of target groups of status holders/asylum seekers/family reunifiers
  • Use the Temporary Protection Directive for Ukrainians as a basis for the reception, integration and placement of all newcomers
  • Provide information at the right time and in phases at the pace of the newcomer
  • Subsidy schemes for associations and local foundations that want to go the extra mile
  • Make sure that you are not the only driving force, but along with several people in your organisation to support newcomers
  • Flexible,  structured cooperation so that the newcomer can be integrated into the system

C. Asylum reception

  • Use the potential of everyone who enters the asylum seekers centrum (AZC)
  • Create opportunities to participate and learn equally
  • Provide a larger range of languages at the AZC (e.g. English lessons)
  • Think from the perspective of the local society and see how to realise an ideal reception
  • Connect with employers, sports clubs, educational institutions, etc.
  • For municipalities, provinces and the state (including COA), create opportunities for early involvement of local residents to work towards humane and sustainable shelters that serve both the neighborhood and newcomers
  • Make the shelters smaller; think from the perspective of local communities

D. Inclusion and work

  • In order to participate, giving the newcomer enough information is important
  • Let asylum seekers work without obstacles
  • Learn from projects such in the nursing/care sector where newcomers learn the Dutch language and work. Make this possible for other sectors and professions

E. Other tips and general recommendations

  • View newcomers as a possibility/opportunity and not a burden
  • Kindness helps!
  • Personal attention starts with a smile on an equal basis
  • Use food to connect


At the end of the symposium, the participants signed the Manifesto “Collaborating with Newcomers” that called on all governments, agencies and residents in the (border) regions to look and support opportunities for newcomers. The manifesto also included the above mentioned recommendations that will be passed on to all stakeholders involved with newcomers.

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.

Victims or resources? Migrants and shrinking areas in the post-Covid-19 society in Italy

31 May 2020

Irene Ponzo and Ferruccio Pastore (FIERI)

New obstacles (and some opportunities) for migrant integration. The pandemic generates both new risks and opportunities for migrant integration. Higher-than-natives propensity to mobility (both across and within national borders) is a key resource for many migrant workers.

Hence, mobility restrictions are likely to affect migrants more than the more sedentary strata of the population. Irregular status of a share of the migrant population may create further difficulties in moving across localities and in accessing health services and social benefits. Living in poor housing conditions, informal settlements, squatted buildings or collective accommodations is more frequent among migrants than among natives, thus exposing the first to comparatively higher risks of contagion.

On the other hand, new integration opportunities can open up, as it is here and there with more or less extensive regularisation procedures that were hardly imaginable until just a few months ago. This is the case of Italy where, to cope with labour shortages, an amnesty of irregular agricultural, domestic and care workers was adopted at mid-May . Regularisation applications can be submitted by employers or irregular foreigners. In the first case, the employer can regularise Italian and regular foreign persons employed on irregular basis or recruit irregular foreigners already present in Italy before March 8 2020 by paying 400 euro for the bureaucratic procedures and an additional amount to be defined as a compensation for evaded taxes. In the second case, foreigners whose residence permits expired before October 31 2019 and who, while still regular, had worked in one of the sectors targeted by the amnesty, can apply for a job seeking permit by paying 190 euros. This type of permit will last 6 months and will have to be converted into a work permit within this time span, otherwise the person will fall back into an irregular status. Around 200,000 migrants are expected to be regularised through one of these two channels, far less than the estimated 500-600,000 irregular migrants living in Italy. This is the result of the amnesty’s exclusive focus agriculture, breeding and fishery, domestic work and care work. Moreover, the amnesty could not offer a good value for money in agriculture where a large share of workers are hired for just a few weeks or months.

A further positive side-effect could be a mitigation in the level of exploitation of migrant (and native) workers due to the strengthen controls over working conditions to ensure the respect of safety rules could produce.

Finally,  if domiciliary care will become a key component of the public health systems to contrast the pandemic, care workers, a large share of which, especially in southern Europe, are immigrants, may gain recognition by assuming a pivotal role in connecting the health services with families. Such role might result even more crucial in peripheral non-urban areas more difficult to reach and monitor on regular basis for the public health services.

Migrants as pioneers of revitalisation of shrinking communities? Covid-19 has turned proximity into an economic and social asset, much more than it used to be. Creatively exploiting proximity (for instance to shorten food supply chains, and or touristic trajectories) is becoming a key condition for recovery, especially in countries, such as Italy, where agriculture and tourism are crucial sectors.

If rural shrinking areas have to become tourist destinations and large-scale production sites for zero-kilometer food (i.e. produced, sold and eaten locally), migrants may turn out to be a critical resource for them. In fact, if such a productive upgrade of inner, peripheral and shrinking areas is adopted as a strategic goal, we can hardly expect that the necessary workforce will come from young natives  flocking out of the cities . An example of this kind of development is Barikama, a cooperative of young African migrants in Campagnano di Roma, that is growing, packing, and delivering boxes of fresh food to the residents of Rome during the Covid-19 outbreak. This kind of initiatives are multiplying in Italy. The current pandemic could turn them from praised small avant-garde experiments into mainstream solutions for a post-Covid-19 proximity society.

Unfortunately, the outlook is still very bleak and no positive outcome is to be expected unless it is painstakingly and strategically pursued. Opposite scenarios are all too plausible: the massive asymmetrical crisis unleashed by Covid-19 could give a final blow to shrinking, economically and demographically fragile areas by further reinforcing urbanisation trends. In the meantime, there are clear symptoms that it could widen gaps and deepen inequalities between (less protected) migrants and (more sheltered) natives. Much will depend on politics and policies, on whether and how they will be able to steer a rethinking of our modes of production and our way of living together.

For the full version of the contribution click here.

Reflections on the consequences of Covid-19 pandemic on shrinking areas in Italy

31 May 2020

University of Bologna

The Covid-19 outbreak has brought new attention and new conceptual and practical challenges for Italian shrinking regions. The pandemic stages an imaginary polarisation between a city suddenly demonised as a place of settlement density and excessively compressed sociality and an idyllic vision of rural areas, suddenly relaunched as romantic, healthy, and safe places to live. However, as Chiodelli points out, it is necessary first to verify whether residential density is a problem. The data currently available do not clearly confirm this. In fact, also areas characterised by residential dispersion can be highly affected by Covid-19 emergency.

Furthermore, even if we embrace the idea of a possible “urban shrinkage”, rural areas are still characterised by too many limits, from inaccessibility, to the lack of essential services and jobs, often combined with  poor infrastructures and limited technological connections. These points are even more important if we think that in Italy these rural territories represent a quantitatively non-marginal area. In these areas, 23% of the Italian population settle, covering a large area of the national territory, equal to 60% and about half of its almost 8,057 municipalities. In this context, the impending crisis linked to the Covid-19 pandemic reopens a debate already existing in Italy, offering new opportunities for revitalisation of “old” problems.

In particular, Covid-19 crisis has boosted the reflection on shrinking areas on a double level.

The first level refers to the narratives and the representation of internal areas, gaining a renovated place in mediatic and political discourses. In Italy, a turning point is represented by a newspaper article where the archistar Stefano Boeri, famous for the “Vertical Forest” project in Milan, suggested to consider small villages as central places for our future. This article led to further public discussions, such as the online event “Riabitare i Piccoli Borghi” (“Re-Inhabit Small Villages”), where academics, writers, civil society organizations, mayors and experts in local development, discussed together on the future of internal areas, while considering the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic for shrinking regions. Similar debates are supported by the Association “Dislivelli”, which dedicated its last publication to the topic of Covid-19 pandemic and Italian mountain areas.

Moreover, public discourses are now re-framing certain characteristics of internal areas, transforming them from limits to opportunities. It is, for example, the case of the possibility to work in isolated contexts, such as in the agricultural and pastoral sector, among the few productive fields that did not stop due to the coronavirus outbreak. Or the case of the very interesting discussions about the reconfiguration of the public health system through what is called “a community-centered care” approach.

The second level refers to policies and concrete projects that have been supported since the pandemic scenario was wide-spreading. Through the development of bottom-up initiatives, for instance, rural areas are showing different signs of active resistance (and resilience). An example concerns the “cooperativa di comunità di Biccari” (Biccari community cooperative), that has activated a voluntary service of home delivery for the elderly and lonely people. An experience that shows the importance of social capital and solidarity in shrinking regions, also confirmed by the fact that this exchange is not based on money but on mutual trust. Similar initiatives are developing in different Italian villages, confirming that Covid-19 emergency is (also) a tool to activate solidarity and reflect on replicable models, even considering the differences related to specific local contexts.

Among some of the numerous initiatives promoted by public institutions, we report the recent call launched by the region Emilia-Romagna to sustain with 10 million euros a total of 119 municipalities, and in particular those individuals or families who intend to buy or renovate a real estate in the Apennines area. Another interesting initiative was promoted by the Ministry for Culture and Tourism, which is supporting non-repayable financing for the re-development and renovation of the historic centers of municipalities with less than 10.000 inhabitants in the regions of Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Puglia and Sicily.

Numerous initiatives aim to sustain forms of local and sustainable development through the support of slow and responsible tourism.

Indeed, as Covid-19 has highly impacted on the mobility of people, restraining international tourism flows – both in terms of incoming and outcoming –, tourism destinations within national borders are gaining a renovated political and entrepreneurial attention. In this scenario, tourism in internal areas is not only seen as a possibility for tourists to enjoy alternative leisure experiences far from the crowded – and, therefore, “dangerous” – urban centers, but also as a viable and sustainable strategy for endogenous development of shrinking regions. This idea is supported by initiatives such as the replacement of the “tourist tax” with the “tourist award”, a creative idea promoted by the mayor of Valle dell’Angelo, the smallest municipalities in Campania.

Supporting sustainable tourism and agriculture is, instead, the aim of the call launched by Regione Puglia to sustain start-ups that provide innovative services for the sustainable use of rural and coastal areas in the territory of Alto Salento. However, as many experts suggest, tourism cannot be considered the only strategy to boost local development of internal areas. First of all, because of the risk of a “tourism monoculture”, namely the risk that the development of these areas starts to depend on a highly unpredictable sector such is tourism. Secondly, because tourism, if not developed through a responsible approach, has often showed its “dark sides” (e.g., pollution, social/cultural conflicts, unequal access to resources, etc.). It is therefore necessary to consider as a priority the needs of local inhabitants, promoting their active participation in decision-making processes. Thirdly, shrinking areas urge systematic interventions to respond to a fragile situation in terms of lack of services, jobs and infrastructures.

To conclude, the COVID-19 outbreak is leading both to new challenges and opportunities for shrinking regions. Surely, it can represent a reflexive node to understand better the mechanisms at the basis of territorial inequalities and exclusion, but, at the same time, the processes of successful revitalisation through inclusive and sustainable development.