Loss of Syrian cities is gain for European villages

As cities of Syria are bombed into submission some of its refugees have been finding solace in unlikely faraway places – villages of Europe. In the middle of anti-immigrant protests, even violence, routinely emerging from an edgy Europe, we have largely missed the unique instances of serene countryside opening their doors to hapless immigrants.

These circumstances have also developed a unique relationship in which the once deserted remote villages have become vibrant once again due to the arrival of refugees. What is more heartening is that this has been going for months, if not years.

Picture the story of a tiny village in Germany called Sumte. The idyllic hamlet with no cinema, shop or café and no community center, was home to only 102 original inhabitants. Yet Sumte has chosen to accommodate more than 750 asylum-seekers. Despite few murmurs of discontent, the village was set to shelter families from Syria and other conflict zones. This influx will be part of the three million refugees predicted to arrive in Europe by the end of 2017.

Italy’s village of Riace has an even more interesting tale. The rural community, in the southern region of Calabria, had witnessed a decline in its population from 2,500 to 400 since the 1990s as people moved to northern parts of the country in search of better economic opportunities. As refugees started to stream in, Riace’s kind-hearted mayor launched a “refugees welcome” project. Now, people of 20 nationalities have made the village home.

The refugee crisis is also proving to be a social experiment which can lead to a positive outcome

Ehtesham Shahid

Riace’s population has bounced back to 2,500. The happy mayor says the government has been promoting refugee settlement in other smaller, shrinking communities. The policy makes more economic sense than accommodating these people in refugee camps. This is a pleasant change from some Italian cities where there have been clamp downs on destitute refugee squatters. Satriano is another example of immigrants repopulating dying Italian villages.

Even Indomeni, the small Greek village at the forefront of European migrant crisis, is another example of a village responding positively to a challenge. The village, located on the country’s northern border, was no more than a transit zone for migrants crossing into Macedonia. Its population of just 140 people has been deluged by camps housing10,000 refugees. Yet Indomeni hasn’t lost its sanity.


The influx of refugees may be an immediate challenge for communities, authorities and individuals but there is evidence to suggest that they are also leading to a reawakening in at least some places in Europe.

In Germany, for instance, one Bavarian village is said to be not only grappling with newcomers but also with the question of what it means to be German. In the village of Eisenärzt a group of 100 Syrians will soon become the New Europeans, occupying the dwellings vacated by nuns after 85 years.

The refugee crisis is also proving to be a social experiment which can lead to a positive outcome. This is also being seen as Germany’s struggle with the challenge to transform itself into a republic of shared ideals rather than shared blood. Fresh from a crippling financial crisis, Greece is said to be rediscovering a lost sense of self-worth as a result of the refugee influx. The country may have run out of financial resources but can still shelter the far less fortunate.

It can be easily argued that the original inhabitants of these lands are just expressing their humanity or fulfilling their obligation to the international community. Yet, the world as a whole must commend these communities in remote areas for holding some light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. They have shown emancipation not seen commonly in big cities.

From Asian traders fleeing Uganda to make it big in London and small entrepreneurs becoming billionaires in the United States, modern history is replete with examples of penniless refugees doing wonders for themselves and their host countries. It is not without reason that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls Syrian refugees “Canada’s economic future”. The difference this time is that the voice of reason has come from the roots – villages.

Ehtesham Shahid is Managing Editor at Al Arabiya English. For close to two decades he has worked as editor, correspondent, and business writer for leading publications, news wires and research organizations in India and the Gulf region. He loves to occasionally dabble with teaching and is collecting material for a book on unique tales of rural conflict and transformation from around the world. His twitter handle is @e2sham.

Last Update: 06:47 KSA 09:47 - GMT 06:47
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