Mayor fears migrants will ruin Wikipedia event

The mayor of an Italian town of just 760 inhabitants fears the arrival of a further 60 refugees could ruin its plans to host the world Wikimania Convention in 2016.

Mayor fears migrants will ruin Wikipedia event
A bird's eye view of Esino Lario. Photo: Carlo Maria Pensa

Wikimania, the official annual conference of the Wikimedia Foundation, brings together programmers, writers, editors and photographers from all over the world to discuss future projects.

Now in its 10th year, previous events have been held in Washington, Taipei, Hong Kong, London and Mexico City.

So the surprise selection of Esino Lario, an alpine town in the Lombardy province of Lecco, was a massive coup, made possible thanks to three years of hard work by volunteers who put the proposal together.

However, the town is up in arms after being told it needs to accommodate 60 refugees in addition to the 41 who already live there. 

The order came after a landlord agreed to host them in one of his properties, earning him €35 a night for each person.

But mayor Pietro Pensa, 31, fears the dream of hosting the event, which will bring around 1,000 people to the town, is “at risk of disappearing” because volunteers will be busy helping to integrate the migrants, giving them little time to assist with the preparations.

The town will receive €200,000 in grants from the Wikimedia Foundation and a further €80,000 from the Cariplo Foundation, which assists projects that bring social value.

Pensa hopes to spend the cash on reopening the town's long-derelict cinema, installing fibre-optic broadband and redeveloping the old museum as well as the gym and library.

These are lofty plans for such limited funds and the only way the project can work is through the contribution of volunteers.

However, residents are concerned that the new arrivals will hinder their capacity to carry out the work needed to prepare the town.

While many of the 41 migrants in Esino have been helping to clean the streets and fix benches, this is largely thanks to the work local volunteers are doing to help them integrate, Pensa said.

Asked why the extra migrants couldn't help with the preparations, Pensa spoke about the reality of housing migrants in a small town.

“They are not so independent and need a lot of help. Each migrant will have a volunteer with them for two or three hours a day,” he told The Local. 

Volunteers in Esino work to help the migrants integrate, aiding them with simple tasks as well as lending a hand with the Italian language and culture.

The new arrivals will mean migrants make up more than ten percent of the town's population: a decision that has baffled Pensa. 

“At (nearby) Lecco there is not one refugee in a town of 70,000,” he said.

But Esino is a town of fighters and the big-hearted volunteers aren't ready to give up yet.

“We'll do everything we can to host the convention,” said Pensa. “We want to show everybody how great Esino is by hosting the best and craziest Wikimania convention possible.” 


Swedish parliament to vote on raising minimum salary for work permits

Next week, the Swedish parliament is due to vote on a proposal to raise the current work permit salary threshold from the current level of 13,000 kronor a month. The government and the Sweden Democrats have proposed raising it to around 33,000 kronor a month.

Swedish parliament to vote on raising minimum salary for work permits

The proposal would raise the maintenance requirement for work permit applicants from outside the EU, the Nordic countries and Switzerland – and it looks likely to pass, as the three government parties, along with the Social Democrats and the Sweden Democrats are in favour of the move.

The current proposal was put forward by the former Social Democrat government, and after discussions in the social insurance committee, it was clear that a majority of the parliamentary parties are in favour – only the Left Party, the Greens and the Centre Party are against it.

“A higher maintenance requirement is a welcome step on the path towards a system that curbs cheating and fraud and focuses on highly qualified labour immigration,” migration minister Maria Malmer Stenergard told TT newswire in a written comment.

The Swedish framework for work permit immigration has been described as unique. In contrast to most other countries in Europe which are specifically aimed at highly educated immigrants, Sweden accepts all immigrants who fulfil the requirements despite their education or profession.

The number of labour immigrants to Sweden has also increased substantially. So far this year, over 50,000 applications have come in, of which 38,000 have been approved. Labour immigrants represent the majority of immigrants in Sweden.

It’s also unclear when the change in legislation could become law. No date is given in the proposal, but the suggested date of implementation is “the day the government decides”.

Another element which is not yet clear is exactly how high the salary threshold will be. This will be decided in a separate regulation, which is planned to come into force at the same time as the new law.

Sweden’s Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard has yet to say what the new salary threshold will be. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

“The goal is to introduce the new maintenance requirement as soon as possible, and we will give more information on the exact limit at a later date,” Stenergard told TT.

In the Tidö coalition agreement, the government and the Sweden Democrats state that the salary threshold should be the same as the average salary, which is currently around 33,000 kronor a month.

Seasonal workers, such as berry pickers, will not be affected by this proposal.

Further tightening up of labour migration laws are also expected in the future. For example, the government wants to investigate if certain professions – such as personal assistants – should be banned from getting work permits. Stenergard has also announced that the so-called ‘track change’, where asylum seekers can switch to other permits, such as work permits, will be abolished.