The Italian town that legally gives fake money to migrants

Fake 10 euro note with Che Geuvara on the back
Image caption Communist and other leftist leaders adorn Gioiosa Ionica's fake euros

In a far corner of southern Italy, transactions in fake currency are not only accepted by local shopkeepers, they are positively encouraged.

The small Calabrian town of Gioiosa Ionica, population 7,000, is currently home to a group of asylum seekers, who are given the imitation bank notes, or "tickets" as they are known, as part of a voucher system.

The refugees can spend the cash on whatever they like, but only in the town, so that local businesses benefit.

Rather than featuring European architectural gems, they bear the likenesses of a collection of communists and leftist leaders - Che Guevara on the fake €10 note, Hugo Chavez on the €20 and Karl Marx on the €50.

The reverse sides feature the signature of Giovanni Maiolo, the co-ordinator of the town's refugee services.

It's all part of what they see in Gioiosa Ionica as a "win-win situation". The refugees get to buy food and spend some pocket money while the shopkeepers get new customers, which helps to defuse any tensions about the new arrivals.

And the "win-win" goes further than that.

The town hall receives €35 (£29; $39) per asylum seeker per day from the central government in Rome. This has to cover everything, from accommodation, food and medical care to Italian language lessons, work placements and assistance with asylum bureaucracy.

It also includes a couple of euros for pocket money.

Image caption Lessons in Italian are one of the things provided for the migrants

In an economically deprived place like Gioiosa Ionica that's more used to emigration than immigration, these sums are making a real difference.

Previously empty houses now earn a rental income and more people are spending money in the local shops.

The fake money ensures the asylum seekers can buy food on a regular basis, even when the funds from Rome are late.

The refugee services pay the shopkeepers in real euros when the cash arrives.

This way the weight of the delay is borne by the shopkeeper, who effectively gives credit to the refugee services, and not by the migrant.

New jobs

Looking after the refugees has created 20 much-needed jobs.

It's all part of the mayor's plan.

Left-of-centre Salvatore Fuda was elected three years ago on a manifesto that included bringing migrants to the town deliberately, by joining the government's "Sprar" system for the "protection of asylum seekers and refugees", which supports migrants by providing those €35 per day.

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Media captionItalian mayor Salvatore Fuda: There have been economic benefits to hosting migrants

"A project like ours, with 75 refugee places, brings us about €1m a year in total," says Mr Fuda.

"This money is given to the town, not to the migrants, If you compare that to our annual town budget of around €8m, you can see it's a significant economic help for us.

"It creates a virtuous circle - through the rental income, the jobs it's created and the money spent on food here. So it's brought an economic benefit."

He hasn't just done it for the money, but also to bring an experience of multiculturalism to the local youngsters.

"The children of Gioiosa Ionica will have no difficulties if they meet people of a different colour, culture or religion. They'll have learned for example that in Afghanistan or India people play cricket, not football, and they'll have seen how to play cricket.

For him, it means that a child from the far south of Italy will encounter foreigners in just the same way as a child growing up in the big capitals of Paris and London.

The migrants seem happy enough, too. Rather than having to live in big refugee centres with little to do, they can get work experience and share houses with other refugees where they can cook for themselves.

A local print shop, for example, has given one young Somali man a work placement. And for as long as he can get work, he will be happy staying in this small town in the far south of Italy.

Arlene Gregorius's report is episode three of the five-part Destination Europe series broadcast weekly as part of The Compass series on the BBC World Service

You can listen to the programme on iPlayer.

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