Hundreds of demonstrators were out on in the small Italian town of Riace on Saturday to support their mayor Domenico ‘Mimmo’ Lucano after he was placed under house arrest Tuesday for allegedly arranging a ‘marriages of convenience’ between a Nigerian woman and Italian man. The marriage provided the woman, who had been forced into prostitution in Naples, the ability to live and work legally in Italy.
Since his election in 2004, Lucano has made international headlines for welcoming thousands of migrants and refugees and creating several social programs to integrate them into society and to revitalize the dwindling rural population of the sparsely-populated Calabrian village. The indicted mayor was named by Fortune Magazine as one of the world’s top 50 leaders in 2016.
"Stay strong, continue fighting," his supporters chanted Saturday as they gathered outside his window. The mayor raised a fist of defiance.
Over the past decade, Lucano has been helping mainly African and Middle Eastern refugees and migrants by implementing the so-called ‘Raise Model’ providing the immigrants with free housing in the town’s abandoned homes and job training with a small salary.
In addition to the charges of abetting ‘illegal’ immigration into Italy, Lucano is also accused of not following the rules to allocate contracts for the town's waste collection service. Charges of embezzlement, fraud, and bribery have were dropped, according to local media.
The local official said in a statement last week: “I never earned anything, nor did I take money from anyone. Public money in Riace was only used for projects relating to migrants and to ease suffering, for job opportunities, integration and to give a better life to asylum seekers.”
“They arrested him for humanitarian acts,” his brother, Giuseppe, told the Observer. “For hours he was interviewed by the prosecutor – he has absolutely nothing to hide. He’s feeling confident and combative but is a little angry.
“There was only one [marriage], not several,” added Giuseppe. “He did it to save the woman’s life.”
“Mimmo helped refugees and Italians,” Yasmine told The Guardian who preferred not to give her last name. She arrived in Raice from Pakistan with her family two years ago. “Maybe others took advantage of his goodness.”
Lucano’s arrest came a week after the right-wing, nationalist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini revealed a series of anti-immigration measures that included slashing funds for migrant reception and integration. The arrest came after a national public broadcaster, Rai, aired a TV show praising the ‘Raice Model’.
Salvini tweeted of Lucano’s arrest: “Who knows what all the other do-gooders who want to fill Italy with immigrants will say now.”
Lucano was supposedly recorded in a phone conversation saying that “To disobey these crazy laws - I’ll go against the law.”
This isn’t the first time that the mayor has been targeted for his progressive policies. He was previously shot at through a restaurant window where he was dining and the local mafia poisoned two of his dogs. The mayor responded by installing a billboard at the entrance of the town, saying: “Riace – a town of hospitality.”
Salvini of the Northern League party has long touted a conservative, anti-immigration platform. The German government said Saturday that it would likely begin sending immigrants to Italy starting Oct. 9, the minister threatened to shut down the country’s airports.
In a tweet on Sunday Salvini wrote: "If someone, in Berlin or Brussels, thinks of dumping dozens of immigrants in Italy via unauthorized charter flights, they should know that there is not and there will be no airport available."