Why Small Towns Seek Refugees

Our friend, dedicated granola eater and guest blogger these past four months, Caroline Ellis also has a wonderful blog of her own. At SuzannesMomsBlog lately, she's been gathering stories about communities around the world who are welcoming refugees. We asked her to select from some of her favorites and post them here...

A June 30 New York Times article that was widely shared detailed how eager many Canadians are to welcome refugees. Enthusiastic, sometimes a bit bossy, they are volunteering in droves to make a difference in the lives of anxious families who have been through the mill.

The article reminded me of other welcome stories I've been collecting. Small towns, in particular, seem to feel they could benefit from welcoming refugees.

Consider Nagu, a remote island on the southwest tip of Finland. Giles Duley wrote at the Guardian, "From the start, the people of Nagu made their guests feel welcome. A Facebook group was set up, activities suggested, volunteers came forward. ...

"Of course, for the refugees, being busy does not erase their past. ... Many still find it hard to sleep, aware that until their asylum applications have been processed, they have not reached the end of their journey.

"However, the warm welcome of the Nagu people has made a difference. And despite their initial reservations, the islanders now feel that it is the refugees who have brought them something."  More.

olunteers from Nagu, a small island in Finland, laugh with refugees during a New Year’s Eve concert put on by local musicians   Photo: Giles Duley/UNCHR

olunteers from Nagu, a small island in Finland, laugh with refugees during a New Year’s Eve concert put on by local musicians   Photo: Giles Duley/UNCHR

In this Al Jazeera story by Thomas Bruckner, refugees are reviving faded Italian villages.

"The village of Riace had seen its population drop from 2,500 to 400 since the 1990s, when people moved to northern Italy for better economic opportunities.

"Domenico Lucano, Mayor of Riace, saw the flow of refugees in Italy as an opportunity. 'We have been welcoming refugees with open arms for the past 15 years. [They have] saved our village,' Lucano explained.

"The resourceful mayor first acted on this opportunity in 1998, when a boat with 218 Kurdish refugees on their way to Greece got stranded on a beach in Riace. This is when Lucano first proposed that the refugees should stay in the village and take over the homes and apartments that had been left vacant by the migrating former residents.

"The mayor helped to facilitate the integration by establishing a 'refugees welcome' project, which is now spreading through neighbouring towns."

Here's a PBS story by Jason M. Breslow about a small town in Germany that needs more people. "With Goslar’s population shrinking by around 2,000 people per year as young people flee to bigger cities and older residents die, [Mayor Oliver] Junk sees refugees as key to the town’s future.

“ 'Europeans must welcome and integrate refugees, accepting that they are not a burden but a great opportunity,' Junk wrote in an op-ed published [in March] in the policy journal Europe’s World."

The mayor has also said, "Anyone who tells me Germany is full up, or that we can’t afford them, I say think of our past, and of the future. Of course we can afford them – we’re a rich country, and we have a duty to help those in need.” More from PBS.


This entry is adapted from one Caroline Ellis posted at SuzannesMomsBlog.