Domenico ‘Mimmo’ Lucano, the former mayor whose efforts to integrate refugees into his small town of Riace in Calabria brought global recognition, was sentenced on 30 September 2021 at the court in Locri to thirteen years and two months in prison. He was also requested to repay €500,000 provided by the EU and the Italian government for the maintenance of refugees. He was found guilty of favouring illegal immigration and of irregularities in managing asylum seekers, including diverting public funds for private benefit.
His arrest in 2018 came a week after a series of anti-immigration measures had been announced by the far-right Lega party’s Matteo Salvini, the then Interior Minister. Other charges included fraud, embezzlement, extortion and abuse of office.
It appears that his crime is to have used funds earmarked for refugee reception to successfully integrate refugees in a depopulated and dying small town.
Lucano’s Riace hailed as Model
For years, thanks to Lucano’s leadership, Riace was regarded as a model of integration. As reported in West England Bylines back January, dilapidated, empty houses in the centre of the town were repaired and offered to refugee families. Training was given in the old crafts that had virtually died out in the town, and work offered equally to the citizens of Riace and the newcomers. The school was able to stay open and businesses in decline began to thrive. The refugees had homes and work and Riace once again had a vibrant present and a future full of promise. Lucano was named by Fortune magazine as one of the world’s fifty greatest leaders, and his efforts were recognised by the Pope on national television. Visitors came from far flung corners of the world to see this project in action and other towns adopted at least some of the measures pioneered by Lucano and his team.
The very success of the scheme must have been a thorn in the flesh for Salvini. It is hard not to conclude that the trial was conceived as an attempt to destroy a carefully thought-out, pragmatic and sustainable scheme to benefit both the town and the refugees – something rather at odds with the tenets of the Lega.
After the judgement a visibly shocked Lucano said
“I spent my life chasing ideals, I fought against the mafia, I sided with the refugees. Today it all ends for me. There is no justice.”
A sentiment echoed worldwide as people try to understand why a man who has worked so unstintingly for his community and for people fleeing war, persecution and hunger could be found guilty of these charges.
Outrage at harsh Sentence
The severity of the sentence – much more punitive than requested by the prosecution – has added to the sense of outrage and disbelief. Since the announcement there has been a huge wave of support from politicians including the Secretary General of the Democratic Party, Enrico Letta, from the public in Italy and abroad, and from humanitarian groups such as Sea Watch, who rescue migrants from unseaworthy boats in the Mediterranean. Twenty-five Italian politicians have signed a statement of support for Lucano.
The judge’s justification for their decision must be given within 90 days, after which Lucano is expected to appeal against the sentence to the Court of Cassation and the Supreme Court, which have in fact previously dismissed significant parts of the Locri court’s allegations. Concern has unsurprisingly been expressed for the credibility of judges as a result.
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