A leader in Italy’s refugee rights movement, Riace Mayor Domenico Lucano is under house arrest while authorities investigate for allegedly favoring illegal migration.
Early Tuesday morning, police authorities confined the town mayor of a Calabria medieval city to his home stating Lucano and his partner, Tesfahun Lemlem, are suspected of arranging “marriages of convenience” between locals and immigrant women as well as setting up systems aimed at bypassing rules for migrants to be granted entrance to Italy.
Lucano’s arrest has spurred outrage across social media, with hundreds coming to his defense, saying the mayor’s only guilty of “saving human lives and welcoming (migrants).”
“(Lucano’s) model of integration for migrants has been long under attack, and today his arrest is on the grounds of the paradoxical accusation of favoring illegal immigration,” said FIOM, the biggest Italian metalworkers union, in support of the mayor.
Since Lucano’s election in 2004, Riace has made headlines for opening its doors to thousands of refugees, integrating them into society and revitalizing a dwindling rural population. He was also listed by Fortune as one of the world’s top 50 leaders in 2016.
Over 3000 citizens of Riace’s 2,000 inhabitants currently are immigrants, deputy mayor Giuseppe Gervasi told Reuters. He said that over the years the town had welcomed hundreds more but that many had then moved on to other European countries, including Britain, Norway and Sweden.
The arrest is the most recent attack against the mayor after over a year of allegations of embezzlement and fraud were dropped and a week after far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, announced a new round of anti-immigration measures.
According to Calabrian writer Gioacchino Criaco, a friend of the mayor, the Lucano’s arrest has been anticipated for some time: “He showed how it was possible to do concrete things with limited means.
“Efficiency and humanity are not welcomed in a cynical system. This is a system that only takes consensus from politics of fear. In this respect, examples of virtuousness must be eradicated.”
FIOM has called for national mobilization against racism and in favor of migrants’ rights to live and work in Italy.