This Italian Village Was Dying … Until the Refugees Came

Centuries-old Italian villages were becoming ghost towns. Refugees were fleeing conflict and seeking new homes. The needs of each have come together in Camini, a 12th-century town whose population has dwindled to about 280 people—a quarter of what it once was. In hope of breathing new life into deserted neighborhoods, Camini has welcomed more than 80 refugees and immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. Just a few miles away, refugees are landing on the coastline in droves. As of August 2016, more than 115,000 people had successfully made the harrowing journey across the Mediterranean to Italy. In 2014, a young Senegalese man named Assan Baldé crossed the most deadly route, from Libya, and was sent to Camini’s budding refugee program. There he found a second home and a second family with Cosmano Fonte. Fonte and Baldé, along with several other immigrants and natives of Camini, are restoring abandoned houses in order to provide new homes for arriving refugees. Their friendship is emblematic of the village’s reception to the immigrants. Refugees and locals live as neighbors and friends and have shaped a community of people who support one another like family regardless of race or religion. The town’s refugee program, Eurocoop, has brought the refugees together with the people who have lived in Camini their entire lives, offering courses ranging from Italian language to pastamaking. For Fonte, the program is the town’s hope: “Thanks to this emergency that has reached Camini, little by little, things in the village are changing.”