Racial tensions have exploded in Rome’s suburbs after locals chanting pro-Mussolini slogans attacked an immigrant holding centre. Police responded with baton charges and tear gas.
Locals are calling for the building in the Tor Sapienza district to be closed after blaming the migrants it houses for “insupportable” levels of street crime in the area.
But the nastier side of the protests were apparent on Tuesday night with hundreds of people chanting: “The blacks have to go,” and dozens more shouting: “Long live Il Duce (Mussolini)”.
The violence in Tor Sapienza began simmering on Monday night with hooded men throwing stones at the Sorriso reception centre in Viale Giorgio Morandi. On Tuesday night the situation escalated dramatically. At around 10pm around 50 people, at the head of a 250-strong crowd, attacked the centre with rocks and petrol bombs. At least 14 people, including four policemen, were injured in the clashes that saw cars and rubbish bins set alight and used as barricades. Some residents claimed the police over-reacted. “They charged us suddenly, for no reason, while were standing still on the pavement. We wanted protection from the forces of law and order, but instead they attacked us,” one local, Eliana, told Ansa news agency.
The 36 African and Bengali refugees inside pleaded with police to be led away to safety, according to Corriere Della Sera newspaper. A few hours earlier one of the refugees was attacked in the street.
The ugly developments are the latest sign of a wave of anti-immigration sentiment sweeping Italy, with populist political leaders appearing to profit from, even encourage it. Matteo Salvini, head of the xenophobic Northern League, has seen his ratings rise after appearing in a T-shirt bearing the phrase: “Stop Invasion”.
Mr Salvini said: “Tor Sapienza represents the failure of the state, caused by the stupid politics of that part of the left that allows everyone to do anything they like.”
Even ex-comic Beppe Grillo, who leads the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, appears to have stepped up the anti-immigration rhetoric.
Many locals have complained of an increase in muggings, car theft and burglary, which they blame on foreigners housed in the centre.
“The tension is sky-high,” said Tommaso Ippoliti, president of the Tor Sapienza residents committee. “For years this neighbourhood has been abandoned. You can’t leave the house at night and lately the violence and thefts have increased,” he said. “A few days ago a girl was molested in the afternoon while taking her dog for a walk. The committee condemns the violence last night, but the local people are rightly exasperated. We need more security.”
According to some reports, the protests were encouraged by local drug dealers who are unhappy at the high level of policing in the area as a result of the migrant centre.
The violence at Tor Sapienza is the latest in a series of racially-motivated confrontations in the capital in the past few months. In September there were several clashes between refugees and locals in the Corcolle district. Around 40 migrants attacked two buses with stones and threatened a female driver, after claiming they were not allowed on public transport. Locals responded by launching vigilante patrols.