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Mayor fears migrants will ruin Wikipedia event

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Mayor fears migrants will ruin Wikipedia event
A bird's eye view of Esino Lario. Photo: Carlo Maria Pensa
13:56 CEST+02:00
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.

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.” 

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