Refugees in the Alps

Migrant’s winter in the Italian mountainous communities.

The Alps are currently facing new challenges and deep changes. Eternal and adamant, averse to the rapid pace of modern society, today’s mountain is compelled to contribute to the refugee crisis by demonstrating how its territories can be an interesting experiment of integration. If the verticality and harshness of mountains for centuries represented closure and remoteness, the contemporary mountainous valleys seem to open to unexpected encounters where apparently very different cultures happen to dialogue with local traditions and customs. An example of this phenomenon is evident in the work by the Cadore s.c.s cooperative, which has provided an integration program for sixty refugees in their seven structures located in different villages of the Dolomites since 2011. Driven by the curiosity of understanding this particular phenomenon, I decided to spend a few winter days with migrants living in the Dolomites trying to understand their experience.

The current migration flux towards mountains is favouring surprising relationships. The small village of Vallesina di Sopra, counting a population of twenty inhabitants, has been hosting six refugees from The Gambia since 2011. Among them I met Camara (33 years old), who was a carpenter before leaving for Europe. Using his phone, he shows me many pictures of furniture he used to build; today, his passion goes on thanks to the collaboration with his neighbour Fabio, by working on recycled materials and pieces of furniture. On the subject of mountains, he tells me: “When you see mountains this high, you have to raise your head so much that your hat will fall from your head!”. In their living room there is a big stove; the arrival of the winter season forces most of them to stay in the house as much as possible as the weather is too cold for what they are used to.  This is probably the first time they have experienced the very rigid weather of the Alps, and they are all looking forward to seeing the first snow of the season.

I frequently enquire on what they think about the place where they actually live. All reply they are happy to be safe and to live in such a fascinating place, but that at the same time they long for better work perspectives. I also ask what were their first thoughts upon arriving in the Dolomites. Before answering, most of them smile: “I wasn’t expecting a similar place, I was imagining Italy as a country with big cities, however I do like staying here” says a Gambian migrant. But for most of them the landscape isn’t the main concern, as their main priority is to obtain the documents that would later allow them to work.

The Dolomites’ mountain communities are providing an answer to the migration issue by demonstrating its openness toward facing the challenges of a changing world. This dialogue between different cultures and ways of thinking was built thanks to the synergy of the different opportunities that only mountainous territories can provide. Issues such as the safeguard and recovery of the landscape, sustainable agriculture and the return of craftsmanship become once again key in the project of a mountain ready to face the new challenges of contemporary society.

About the author
Michele Amaglio is an Italian photographer born in 1993. After graduating in photography at the University of Brighton, he lives and works in Treviso (Italy) as a freelance photographer. His work has been published by the Huffington Post, Creators, Elle Decor and Il Manifesto and exhibited at important venues such as Brighton Photo Fringe, Les Rencontres Internationales in Paris and Berlin.

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