Italy Arrests Pro-Refugee Mayor Known Internationally for Calling for Migrant Integration
Domenico (Mimmo) Lucano, Mayor of Italian town of Riace (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Italy’s new government is sticking to its electoral promise of clamping down on illegal immigration and asylum claims landing on its shores. In its latest move, the mayor of an Italian town known around the world as a model of integration has been put under house arrest for 'aiding illegal migration'.

The mayor Domenico Lucano who is mayor of Riace, known as Mimmo, made headlines around the world for his unusual programme that welcomed migrants to the sparsely-populated Italian town in Calabria, giving them abandoned homes and on-the-job training, in the hope that the new arrivals would rejuvenate the economy.

He started the programme in 1998 under a previous government, and since then hundreds of migrants have joined the small town of about 2,000 people. The success of the programme, lauded by many as a model of integration, helped Lucano being named one of the world's 50 greatest leaders by Fortune magazine in 2016.

On Tuesday, Lucano was detained by Italy’s financial police over his alleged involvement in organising "marriages of convenience" for immigration purposes. Prosecutors said they had wire-tapped Lucano's phone and recorded at least one exchange in which the mayor appeared to suggest marriage as a solution to a woman's immigration problems, in a way they said could not be misunderstood.

The BBC reports that one such excerpt concerned a Nigerian migrant who had been denied residence three times, the statement said. Lucano is reported to have said that marrying an Italian citizen was "the only way forward".

“Particularly alarming were not only the long series of administrative irregularities and criminal offences, but also the naturalness with which Lucano and his partner resolved to transgress the civil and administrative rules,” said the statement by the prosecutor.

Lucano’s arrest comes as Italy elected two parties on a populist wave in June which promised tough measures against immigration with the head of the right-wing League party, Matteo Salvini, taking the role of interior minister. He has since pursued a series of anti-migration policies.