African resistance in Italy

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It demonstrates why we must build the African Socialist International!


By Nick Squires in Rome 

Nearly 70 people, including 30 immigrants, 19 policemen and 17 Italians were injured in the clashes, which started on Thursday after two Africans – from Togo and Nigeria – were shot at with air rifles by locals.

The shooting set off two nights of rioting in the town of Rosarno in the southern Calabria region, with immigrants saying they were sick of being treated like "animals", living in squalid conditions and being paid rock bottom wages for picking fruit and vegetables.

On Thursday, hundreds of immigrants, most of them from sub-Saharan Africa, staged an angry demonstration against the shooting, setting fire to cars and rubbish bins, smashing shop windows and throwing rocks at police.

They carried placards which read "We are not animals" and "Italians are racist".

Locals retaliated on Friday, beating immigrants with iron bars and trying to run them over with cars and, in one case, a bulldozer.

Two immigrants were injured after being shot in the legs with shotguns. Gangs of Italian men carried out "manhunts", looking for Africans to beat up, the local media reported. One young African man was taken to hospital for emergency brain surgery after being struck on the head.

About 2,000 migrant workers held a sit-in in the centre of Rosarno while Italians blocked roads with barricades and called for the foreigners to be expelled.

The attacks continued on Saturday, with a group of men in a car shooting another African man with an air rifle near the town of Gioia Tauro, a few miles from Rosarno.

Thousands of illegal immigrants, or "clandestini", have poured into Italy in recent years, with the authorities turning a blind eye to their lack of official documentation.

In the south of the country they are employed on farms and in orchards, picking fruit and vegetables for as little as 25 euros a day.

They take the jobs that Italians shun. Some of them are qualified as engineers and teachers, while others are asylum seekers and political refugees.

Many live rough in tents pitched in abandoned factories, with no lavatories, running water or electricity.

A team from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was expected to visit the area on Saturday. A spokeswoman, Laura Boldrini, called for urgent action to be taken about the "inhuman conditions in which these workers are living: the unhealthy cabins without water, without hygiene".

"We're here to work. I risked my life to come to Italy by sea," said a Moroccan, Ahmed. "I thought I'd find paradise, instead my life here is hell."

Around 300 immigrants were rushed away from the area in buses with police escorts, with locals jeering and applauding as they were taken to an emergency shelter in a town 100 miles away.

The interior minister, Roberto Maroni, a member of the Right-wing, anti-immigrant Northern League party, said the tensions were a result of "too much tolerance towards clandestine immigration".

"In all these years illegal immigration has been tolerated without doing anything effective, an immigration that on the one hand has fed crime and on the other has led to situations of extreme squalor such as that at Rosarno".

His remark was condemned by opposition parties and human rights groups.

"What is needed now is to calm the situation in Rosarno. There is mafia, exploitation, xenophobia and racism there. You have to go to the roots," said the leader of the opposition Democratic Party, Piero Bersani.

About 50,000 immigrant workers in Italy live in poor conditions similar to those in Rosarno, according to Italy's main trade union, which said they were paid "miserable salaries and have terrible hours, similar to slavery".

The union said the workers were vulnerable to exploitation by Calabria's mafia, the 'Ndragheta.

The governor of the region, Agazio Loiero, said that while the violence was "unacceptable", the migrants had been "strongly provoked".

The riots were the latest outbreak of tension between foreign migrants and locals in Italy's underdeveloped south.

In 2008, migrants rioted in a town close to Naples after six Africans were murdered in a gangland-style shooting blamed on the Camorra mafia.


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