Migrant Lives

'Refugeeland' - Italy Resettles 80 Asylum Seekers In Town Of 7

The government's placement of migrants could increase the population of Vaccarozzi di Erbezzo, a miniscule mountain village above Verona, more than tenfold.

They'll watch the human drama unfold below.
They'll watch the human drama unfold below.
Fabio Poletti

VACCAROZZI DI ERBEZZO — Locals have nicknamed this tiny Italian town "refugeeland." Located high in the mountains above Verona, Vaccarozzi di Erbezzo is home to just seven people. But that is now set to change — in a major way — with the arrival of as many as 80 asylum seekers resettled from other regions in Italy.

The transfers are part of an ambitious plan by Interior Minister Marco Minniti to house three migrants for every 1,000 people in towns across the country. Lucio Campedelli, Vaccarozzi di Erbezzo's mayor, is a political moderate. But he firmly opposes the plan.

"Sending 80 refugees here would turn this place upside down," says Campedelli. "They only told us before the summer that they would arrive, but we can't do anything about it. I don't want to add fuel to the fire, but I hope they stop with these first 26 arrivals."

The first 26 migrants arrived in early November after landing on the shores of Calabria in southern Italy a week earlier. They come from Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Sudan, and Ivory Coast. All of them are men, and all are still traumatized from their difficult journey in rickety barges across the Mediterranean.

The group won't find much comfort here, a cold town hidden in a dense fog that cloaks the surrounding hills and keeps the seven inhabitants feeling trapped inside. Two of those seven citizens are over the age of 90 and have domestic helpers assisting them at home. "I hope that all these men are sons of God and that they aren't here to harm or kill us," says Ielena, a Romanian domestic helper.

For now, the asylum seekers of Vaccarozzi di Erbezzo are being held in a former NATO barracks administered by the local government of Verona and leased to the nonprofit cooperative Versoprobo. The site is guarded by a double gate and a turret, and entry and exit is still prohibited, even for the migrants, many of whom are still struggling to recover from their traumatic odyssey.

"For now it's better that they readapt in our center, where we can take care of their primary needs, such as food," says Andrea Montagnini, a member of Versoprobo. "Soon they will be able to leave under certain rules, and we'll try to provide them with a shuttle to town. But at night they'll have to return here."

Versoprobo claims that locals should have nothing to fear from the resettlement program. "We've tried to reassure the local community through several meetings that they won't have to change their way of life just because these refugees have arrived here," says Montagnelli.

Bruno is moving bales of hay with his tractor to feed his cows, and doesn't seem reassured by such promises. "As long as they stay in the barracks I won't be worried, but the idea of them going out at night scares me," he says. "But at the end of the day what can we do when it's seven of us against 80 of them?"

A curly-haired woman in the town's central square is a bit more optimistic. "In other countries they don't have problems with managing refugees, let's hope that it'll be the same here," she says. "I would prefer to have them kept in the center but I don't want to assume the worst."

At the local coffee bar, copies of today's edition of the local newspaper L'Arena announcing the migrants' arrival have sold out. "Sending 80 here is madness. It would completely change our land," says Liana, the barista. "Even sending two here would be too many if we didn't ask for them."

Like many locals, Liana wonders why they are being sent to such a remote place, away from the more populous city of Verona. "They say they're sending them here because there's a facility ready in the NATO barracks, but Verona also has places ready," she says. "They prefer to send them here in the mountains, far out of sight and out of mind."

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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