Riace’s Successful Rural Refugee Integration Model Threatened

Johannes C. van Nieuwkerk
3 min readOct 8, 2018


On the 2nd of October, Riace’s mayor Domenico Lucano was placed under house arrest on “suspicion of abetting illegal migration”. On the 17th of October he was released but banned from staying in Riace. These events follow his hunger strike in August and earlier suspension of a TV show about his community by Rai, the Italian public broadcaster.

It seems “politics” has “forgotten” the extraordinary revitalization success of the small Southern Italian town, Riace, due to Lucano’s policy “to welcome and help refugees”. His scheme, which was implemented more than ten years ago, has resulted in fascinating long-term accomplishments.

Today the town has about 1500 inhabitants, up from around 500 in 2004, and 35% of its population has a refugee background. These migrants peacefully live alongside many former inhabitants who emigrated and are now returning to their newly rejuvenated town. Over the years, additional, 6,000 refugees found temporary shelter in Riace.

Since in Europe there are thousands if not tens of thousands small towns and villages with decreasing populations similar to Riace, replicating Riace’s results would be highly desirable. The main bottleneck seems to be that the achieved revitalization has been structurally financed by public funds and that Riace’s economical self-sustainability up until now has only been re-established very partially.

However, Lucano’s policy has not been more costly than other ways of offering government funded shelter to refugees. Rural revitalization may be a welcome spin-off, but 10 comparable small projects could nevertheless possibly solve the current poor refugee reception conditions in Bosnia and 100 similar projects those of Greece.

In principle, multiplication of the Riace model could rapidly and substantially improve humanitarian conditions for the many refugees who currently stay in Europe’s refugee camps at no extra cost. Simultaneously it could significantly enhance the living circumstances for part of the 100 million people still residing in Europe’s declining rural areas. The unanswered question remains as to how to improve the long-term economical rural self-sustainability after “externally financing” the revitalization of countryside communities.

Worldwide and especially in the United States, the percentage of people working remotely is rapidly increasing and is expected to keep growing in future. In the US 43% of the people now telecommute part-time, 8% full-time and 2–3% work entirely from home. Therefore a vast number of Internet-based tasks can potentially be relocated to rural areas, which will create a stable income potential.

Training of capable refugees for Internet labor market demands via individualized Internet-based education and at the same time offering them hands-on experience in executing Internet based jobs at rural co-working centers will optimize the synergy between their local presence and rural revitalization. This way necessary non-agricultural and non-handicrafts based activities can be added to the rural economy’s portfolio in order to regain self-sustainability.

From a European Union perspective, rural refugee incubation is likely a much better option than the currently proposed disembarkation platforms. Rural refugee incubation would supply job matching candidates to the shortages facing future European labor market. If you believe in exploring this alternative further, please contact me. I am seeking for like-minded partners to undertake pilot-projects together.

Finally, please share this article on social media in support of Riace and Domenico Lucano; Riace’s integration success should be duplicated instead of disrupted!



Johannes C. van Nieuwkerk