This article examines a migration pattern which has been overshadowed by the ‘security turn’ dominating European discourses: depopulation. Across Europe, emigration is responsible for significant demographic transformations, especially in rural and remote areas. Depopulation leads to the reduction of services provided to citizens, further diminishing the attractiveness of these territories. Against this background, migration can counterbalance depopulation as part of a strategy for rural regeneration. This article analyses the case of Riace, an Italian town that has been hosting people seeking asylum and refugees for decades, and compares it to the Serbian town of Sjenica, where increasing numbers of non-EU migrants are settling after the ‘closure’ of the Western Balkans route. Our empirical findings indicate that there is both an opportunity and a political will to implement a similar model to that of Riace in Sjenica and in the southwest Sandžak region.