Nick Squires, Telegraph, July 17, 2015
Violent protests against refugees broke out in Rome on Friday, hours after locals in the northern city of Treviso forced the evacuation of a group of migrants by burning mattresses and furniture.
Protesters clashed with truncheon-wielding riot police in the suburb of Casale San Nicola on the outskirts of Rome as a group of 19 refugees were driven under police escort to a former school that has been converted into a migrant reception centre.
At least 14 police officers were hurt in the clashes, which came amid a growing backlash against the 84,000 refugees and asylum seekers who have arrived in Italy this year after crossing the Mediterranean in boats and dinghies operated by people smugglers based in Libya.
That is on top of the 170,000 who reached Italian shores last year.
Demonstrators, some of them from a far-Right group called Casapound, hurled stones and water bottles at the bus carrying the refugees, prompting police to charge at them with shields and truncheons.
Protesters also burned rubbish skips and bales of hay and tried to block a road.
Clutching Italian flags, they said they wanted their suburb to remain “Italian” and claimed they did not have adequate infrastructure to deal with the migrants.
The ugly scenes came just hours after the authorities in Treviso, in the Veneto region of northern Italy, were forced to move 101 mainly African migrants from two empty apartment buildings in which they had been housed.
Residents in the town of Quinto di Treviso, outside Treviso, set mattresses, television sets and furniture on fire in protest at the resettlement, saying they did not want the migrants living nearby.
They had seized the objects after breaking into the buildings, protesting against what they said was “an invasion”.
The migrants had to be transferred to a local army barracks for their own safety.
Luca Zaia, the governor of Veneto, voiced support for the protesters, saying that his region was being “Africanised” by the arrival of so many migrants.
“The Veneto is in danger of becoming an outpost of Africa,” he said.
Mr Zaia is a prominent member of the Northern League, a centre-Right political party which has seen its popularity rise on an anti-immigration platform.
“There are families living there, many of them with small children, and the local authority, without warning anyone, sends 101 refugees. Residents are just claiming the right to live in peace,” he told La Stampa newspaper, without identifying what threat, if any, the migrants posed.
He said that “two out of every three” of the refugees were economic migrants and did not have the right to claim asylum in Italy, calling for the international community to set up processing centres in North Africa where genuine asylum seekers could be distinguished from economic migrants.
“In my region we have 517,000 immigrants, 42,000 of them without jobs. We have no more room for them–enough,” he said.
Matteo Salvini, the head of the Northern League, criticised the police response and said local authorities should stop “coddling” migrants.
His remarks were condemned by the governing, centre-Left Democratic Party.
“Salvini’s instigation of violence is shameful. Trying to pick up votes on people’s misfortune is disgusting,” said the party’s Khalid Chaouki, one of Italy’s few ethnic minority MPs.
Maria Augusta Marrosu, the local prefect in Treviso, said residents who had set fire to property would be prosecuted. “It’s the Italians who are behaving badly, not the foreigners,” he said.