On the 16 and 17 November 2017, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) organised an event on “Social Innovation for refugee inclusion”, including one session on the integration of refugees in small and rural communities. The speakers highlighted how non-traditional actors have initiated innovative ways to foster the inclusion of newcomers in these depopulated areas. They also discussed how the inclusion of refugees in rural and remote areas could help these areas to fight against depopulation and boost growth in rural areas. Bringing one or two families to a small mountain village, for instance, could help maintain some services of general interest, such as a public school, a post office, etc.
Euromontana participated to the workshop and presented the SIMRA Project (Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas) that collects examples of social innovation. An example of social innovation in a marginalised rural area linked to refugee inclusion is the “Orti didattici di comunità” project. The project was created in Castelnuovo Bocca d’Adda, a commune of 1600 inhabitants in the Province of Lodi in the Italian region Lombardy, where an old abandoned house has been transformed into a small reception center for 12 asylum seekers and the surrounding area has become a social garden where children and locals, including refugees, can work the land.
At the end of the workshop, the conclusions for the inclusion of refugees in rural areas given by the speakers and the participants were:
- To consider rural and small communities as welcoming places suitable for resettlement;
- To use social innovation to establish new partnerships in small and rural communities;
- To work and engage with the host and local communities before the newcomer’s arrival;
- To teach doctors, police agents and all public agents a specific and targeted approach to deal with refugees;
- To consider migrants as a source of employment (for instance, some of them may have farming expertise);
- To develop services of general interest in small and rural areas and to make them accessible to everyone, including refugees.