The former mayor of an Italian village who welcomed refugees has been sentenced to more than 13 years in jail for “abusing” migrant laws.
Domenico “Mimmo” Lucano, the left wing mayor of Riace between 2004 and 2018, was put under house arrest three years ago for aiding illegal immigration, embezzlement, and fraud. He had allowed more than 500 refugees to settle in the southern Italian village during the height of the refugee crisis.
Italian authorities arrested Lucano for organising “marriages of convenience”. They say he had arranged a wedding between an Italian man and a Nigerian woman, so she could work in Italy.
And magistrates claim Lucano fell foul of public tender regulations by giving waste collection contracts to two cooperatives set up to help migrants look for work.
Lucano’s arrest came just a week after far right Matteo Salvini—then the interior minister—pushed through a series of racist laws against refugees.
Salvini made Lucano a target because of the village’s pro-refugee policies.
Riace’s population dwindled amid social deprivation in the beginning of the 2000s. Lucano welcomed refugees to the town, opened up empty houses for them to live in, and created jobs for them.
“I have no words, I didn’t expect it,’’ Lucano told reporters after the sentence.
“I spent my life chasing ideals, I fought against the mafia. I sided with the last ones, the refugees. And I don’t even have the money to pay the lawyers. Today it all ends for me. There is no justice.”
Several anti-racist activists and groups have rallied behind Lucano, saying, “If solidarity is a crime, we are also guilty.”
Lucano has been sent down for a year longer than Luca Traini—a supporter of Salvini’s League party—who shot six black refugees in 2018.
Protests in support of Lucano have taken place in Riace and towns and cities across Italy, including Milan, Florence, Padua and Genoa.
A petition in solidarity with Lucano has reached nearly 250,000 signatures already.
The Sea Watch Italy refugee charity tweeted, "The former mayor of Riace gave life and future to his city through welcome and solidarity.
“We are at the side of Mimmo Lucano and whoever practices solidarity every day.”
Lucano, who will remain under house arrest, said he would appeal his sentence. In Italy sentences become definitive only after two appeals, with the second going to the supreme court.