A Model Project for Refugee Integration

The pho­tog­ra­ph­er and author Nico­la Zolin doc­u­ment­ed the rise and fall of the city of Riace and its for­mer may­or, who wel­comed refugees with open arms, cre­at­ing a spe­cial kind of utopia. The fol­low­ing images are tak­en from Zolin’s 2018 pho­to series »The World is a Small Town«. The Mari­na of Riace on the south­east coast of Italy, where a boat with sev­er­al hun­dred Kurds strand­ed in 1998. © Nico­la Zolin

For­mer may­or Domeni­co »Mim­mo« Lucano of the south­ern Ital­ian munic­i­pal­i­ty of Riace was co-founder of the asso­ci­a­tion Cit­tà Futura—City of the Future. In col­lab­o­ra­tion with aid orga­ni­za­tions, he took in refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Pales­tine, and Lebanon. With this came state sub­si­dies that were then also invest­ed in the village’s infra­struc­ture, which—many today believe—would like­ly have died out with­out the new res­i­dents. And so, togeth­er with the locals, aban­doned hous­es were repaired. The new­com­ers were also intro­duced to local tra­di­tions of glass mak­ing, ceram­ics, and embroi­dery. But from the begin­ning, there was resis­tance to what was seen as an idio­syn­crat­ic approach, which final­ly led to the project’s col­lapse a few years ago. Lucano was accused of mal­prac­tice, abuse of his posi­tion, and had to leave Riace. In the mean­time, how­ev­er, he’s back forg­ing new plans.


Riace Cit­tà Futu­ra / Asso­ci­azione Cit­tà Futura—Giuseppe Puglisi


Domeni­co Lucano, for­mer may­or of Riace; res­i­dents of Riace, refugees, Ser­vice of Pro­tec­tion for Refugees and Asy­lum Seek­ers (SPRAR), co-Winanc­ing; Cit­tà Futura—Giuseppe Puglisi, asso­ci­a­tion; Nico­la Zolin, photographer


Since 1999, year of foundation


Riace, Italy

A view of Riace Sopra, a place from which peo­ple had moved away for decades to find work in the north of the coun­try or North­ern Europe. The fate of the vil­lage changes with the fugi­tives that the for­mer may­or Domeni­co Lucano has placed in the emp­ty hous­es of the vil­lage. Ini­tia­tives are estab­lished with res­i­dents so that those who want to stay can set­tle down. © Nico­la Zolin
The for­mer teacher Domeni­co Lucano became may­or of Riace in 2004 and is estab­lish­ing a cul­ture of welcome—a cel­e­brat­ed inte­gra­tion and devel­op­ment project. Togeth­er with local res­i­dents, he found­ed the coop­er­a­tive »Cit­tà Futura«—City of the Future, in order to take a stand against the eco­nom­ic exploita­tion and social exclu­sion of refugees, while at the same time attract­ing more tourists to the region. © Nico­la Zolin
It is said that over the years more than 6,000 refugees from about 20 nations have come through Riace. Only a few stayed, many want­ed or had to move on. The sign that stood at the entrance of the town dur­ing the reign of Domeni­co Lucano is an expres­sion of this diver­si­ty. © Nico­la Zolin
6,000 peo­ple protest against the arrest of Domeni­co Lucano. © Nico­la Zolin