Dying Italian town sees immigrants as key to growth, revitalization, and survival

The population of this town located in the toe of Italy’s “boot” is shrinking as its residents get older.

At its peak in the 1950s, the old town of Satriano had about 3,800 residents. Today it’s down to about 1,000. If it shrinks much more, schools, health clinics and the local post office may have to be closed.

So when a flood of refugees began pouring into Europe last year — some of them on boats landing on Mediterranean beaches not far from here — local leaders saw it as a great opportunity.

Local officials in Satriano are enthusiastically situating refugees in temporary housing, lining them up with jobs and assisting them with their applications for asylum.

The hope is that the refugees, most of them men in their 20s, will choose to stay here rather than making their way north to more prosperous parts of Italy or on to Germany, Sweden or the UK. Perhaps they’ll bring their families, buy some of those empty houses and make a life here.

The presence of refugees can be an opportunity to repopulate the town,” says Satriano Mayor Michele Drosi. “It can create a virtuous cycle.

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