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. 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.
“Our mission is both humane and humanitarian, that’s the most important thing,” said Stefano Calabro, a 43-year-old police officer who has been mayor of Sant’Alessio since 2009. “But there is a significant economic benefit too.”
“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.
The state allocates up to US$47 dollars a day for each migrant, most of which goes to the organisers to cover costs. The project has created full or part-time jobs in Sant’Alessio for 16 people including seven locals – from social workers to Italian teachers and cultural mediators.
And it has prevented the closure of the village’s basic services – a bar, small supermarket, doctor’s surgery and pharmacy.
With funds to spend on services, the council has been able to open a small gym open to all residents and upkeep a lush sports field overlooking the valley, where migrants regularly challenge the team from a nearby drug rehabilitation centre. After six months to a year here, some of the refugees managed to find work in the region, others headed elsewhere.
Bar owner and widow Celestina Borrello, 73, whose son left years ago to find work in Belgium, says “the village was emptying, so if there’s a little movement now, it’s a good thing”. “We know what it means to leave our land,” she adds.