The laughter of a small group of refugees has broken the silence of a once-dying village in the foothills of the Aspromonte mountains in southern Italy.
As reported by the Agence France-Presse (AFP), the tiny village of Sant’Alessio has been welcoming families and vulnerable migrants for three years in a project which not only provides humanitarian assistance but brings with it invaluable economic and social benefits.
Over the years the village has dwindled to only 330 inhabitants, many of them elderly. The steep cobbled streets are deserted and most windows are shuttered, residents having left over the years for better work opportunities in Turin, Milan or as far away as Australia.
In an attempt to reverse the trend, however, since 2014 the council has been renting eight of these empty flats to house up to 35 migrants at a time as part of the national SPRAR network (Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees).
Everything is done to help the newcomers get back on their feet, from Italian lessons to legal, medical and psychological assistance, vocational training and social activities such as gardening, cooking and dancing classes.
The village is currently home to an Iraqi Kurdish family, a Gambian couple with a baby and young people from Ghana, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal.
According to AFP, there is a special project for the most vulnerable, including HIV-positive people, diabetics, victims of prostitution networks, a deaf and dumb couple, and a young woman whose toddler son was shot dead in Libya and husband is feared drowned.
The state allocates up to €45 a day for each migrant, most of which goes to the organisers to cover costs.
The project has been such a success that Coopisa, the association behind it, is opening others in four villages nearby.
“Sant’Alessio has been our prototype,” said Coopisa head Luigi De Filippis, who points out there is scope for the project to go across Italy and beyond.