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Igloos warm hearts in old Alps ski town where migrants reside

Local restaurant owner Davide Midali saw promise in both his village of San Simone and its new residents.

A restaurant owner in a tiny village in the Alps has come up with a novel way to help revive its fortunes, while also helping engage with African asylum seekers who now live there.

San Simone once had a thriving ski trade before financial issues saw the lifts close this winter, and it now also hosts about 80 African asylum seekers who were assigned to live there when they arrived in Italy.

Local restaurant owner Davide Midali saw promise in both his village and its new residents, and to lure tourists back he set out to build igloos that could be rented overnight, like ones he had seen in Sweden.

That is how a handful of immigrants not used to the cold picked up the art of igloo-making.

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Migrants build igloos in San Simone (Luca Bruno/AP)

“When some of them saw me creating these blocks of snow, they voluntarily decided to give a hand to reach a common goal,” Mr Midali said.

Working with a small crew of volunteers, Mr Midali built six igloos – each taking four or five days to complete.

Omar Kanteh, a Gambian citizen who has been in Italy for nine months, is among the newcomers who embraced the construction project, as well as its friendly foreman.

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Omar Kanteh, of Gambia, carries a block of ice as he builds an igloo (Luca Bruno/AP)

“God made snow, but this time, man made igloos,” Mr Kanteh said.

“It was very strange to me, so I am very excited. This is a new talent in my life.”

The igloos, which were set up as a mini-village, sleep 18 altogether and have been fully booked on weekends since mid-January.

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Children play with sledges behind an igloo village (Luca Bruno/AP)

Curious people stop by to snap photographs or for a peek inside the snow domes. Schools in Milan and Bergamo have brought children up for field-trips.

For 100 euro (£89) per person, a couple can dine at Mr Midali’s restaurant, sleep in an igloo and eat an organic breakfast before embarking on a guided snowshoe excursion in the Valle Brembana mountains.

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Tourists Elena Rota and Giovanni di Giovanni prepare beds for the night inside an igloo in San Simone (Luca Bruno/AP)

Mr Midali thinks the project has allowed him and the migrants to understand each other a little better, maybe even to serve as an example for others in San Simone.

In that way, the connection forged with tools and snow is a small counterpoint to the pre-election campaigning in Italy that has featured right-wing parties pledging to expel thousands of migrants.

“You learn to know these young men, where they are from and their background, and they also learn about our background and life here,” Mr Midali said.

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A night view at the igloo village (Luca Bruno/AP)

Praising Mr Midali’s courage and open-mindedness, Mr Kanteh said he would like to settle in San Simone if his application for Italian asylum is approved.

“He loves me for who I am, and I also love him for who he is,” he said.

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Omar Kanteh, of Gambia, carries a block of ice as he helps build an igloo (Luca Bruno/AP)

“It’s not about me being from Africa and him from Europe. We are all from one race.”

Cristian Palazzi, president of the local tourism board, said the igloo project was “a small step to give life to a small community”.

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Tourists relax on deckchairs next to the igloo village (Luca Bruno/AP)

“I cannot guarantee whether this is enough, but for sure this has been a great idea because without it, today San Simone would be dead.”

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