PHOTO/ANSA/Alessandro Sgherri
PHOTO/ANSA/Alessandro Sgherri

Riace seems a ghost town after a court decided to revoke the house arrest for mayor Domenico Lucano and ban him from living in the town. The prevailing sentiment among refugees and others is dismay, along with incredulity and anger.

On arriving in Riace in the early morning, the town seems bereft of people. There is a feeling of uncertainty over the future of its inhabitants on the first day without the ''guiding light'' - as some call the mayor, now suspended from his position, - who lit up the past 15 years of the life of this small town of only 500 local inhabitants and 150 from various countries around the world. 

The town is perched on a slope and only 7 kilometers from the Ionian Sea. The mayor, Domenico Lucano, is no longer there after being forced to live elsewhere by Reggio Calabria judges. His absence weighs heavily on the town. 

No one knows how long he will be forced to stay away. The absence generates anger and uncertainty both in the migrants and in the many who had seen the unique reception model as a chance to save the entire town. 

Empty streets and alleyways 

The streets of the town, which until a few months ago had been filled with a multiethnic community, are now desolate in their emptiness, as if the migrants and locals had placed themselves ''under house arrest'' while waiting to see what will happen. 

On Via Roma, in a small square that looks out over a park set up for children and from which there is a breathtaking view of the sea, is the Meeting Bar, one of the main hangout spots in the town. But now there are only journalists and a few locals. In the afternoon, the area some retirees come to play cards, including Lucano's 91-year-old father Roberto, who is a retired teacher that still cannot believe that his son has been ordered to leave the town. 

The funds for Italy's Protection System for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (SPRAR) have not arrived for the past year and a half. The craftsmen were forced to halt their activities. Of the ''global village'' there are only the colored plates outside the workshops indicating the ethnic origin of the workers;  many frescoes illustrate the experience of reception and integration. 

The desolation of the craftsmen 

As the hours go by, some of the craftsmen who had managed to reopen their activities come out and open their artisan shops to show journalists what integration had been like in this place. Irene had worked in the glassware shop for ten years and can't stop sobbing when she starts talking about the future.

''The work,'' she said, ''was my entire life. And now, with this situation, I don't know what will happen.'' Next to her is Rauda, a young Somali girl who was working alongside her in the workshop for the past three years. ''I liked being here,'' she said, with tears welling up in her eyes as well, ''and I am very sad. At this point, I do not know whether I will leave.'' 

And this is what they find frightening. Several of the migrants and refugees living in Riace said that they are planning to leave. ''Even the interior minister said that the Riace experience is over,'' said Daniel, a young man from Ghana. This is a prospect that is frightening. ''Before there were tourists in Riace and now no one comes here. We are harmed by this as well, and not only refugees,'' said Antonio, who had worked in the carpentry shop alongside a young Kurdish man. 

Now his products, like those of Irene and Rauda, have been put away on shelves and remain in the darkness of shuttered shops. 

Author: Alessandro Sgherri 

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