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Paramilitary police officers patrol downtown Naples.

Beating Illustrates Hostile Environment for Italy’s Immigrants

February 03, 2009 12:02 PM
by Anne Szustek
The beating and burning of an unemployed Indian laborer in a Rome suburb has provoked a debate about the treatment of immigrants in Italy and the government’s response.

“Vigilante” Violence

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This most recent incident, which occurred in the coastal town of Nettuno, just south of the capital, is only the latest in a surge of anti-immigrant violence seen across the country over the last two years.

“It’s a dangerous time for immigrants to be living in Italy, especially if you have a dark skin,” one immigrant told Adnkronos International on the condition of anonymity.

Mirrioring a spate of similar incidents last fall and in January, the beating of Navtej Singh Sidhu, who was sleeping on a park bench, was described by those arrested as a sort of vigilante justice.

“We were looking for a down-and-out person, someone sleeping rough. Not necessarily a Romanian or a black person, just someone we could teach a lesson to,” the three young suspects told a local newspaper.

However, critics of the current Silvio Berlusconi administration have been quick to suggest an increasingly hostile attitude on the part of the government toward immigrants as the trigger for recent events.

“Episodes of criminal intolerance such as this are the result of xenophobic propaganda and a climate of hatred and fear that has been created,” said center-left opposition leader Walter Veltroni.

Veltroni’s allegations stem from Berlusconi’s ruling coalition, which came to power in the spring of 2008 and includes factions from Italy’s far-right, “often-xenophobic” Northern League.

After winning a third term last year, Berlusconi instituted a series of legislative and police actions meant to deal directly with the country’s immigrant population, which critics like Veltroni have suggested have led to an increasingly hostile environment.

In May 2008, Police detained 400 illegal immigrants in what the government saw as a first step toward lowering crime. According to The Times of London, 118 of them are to be expelled from Italy for a variety of crimes including drug dealing, prostitution and robbery.

The paper continued, “In Naples local people have anticipated the new policy, taking the law into their own hands.” Shantytowns created by the Roma, also known as Gypsies, were torched by civilians in a series of raids that have left the camps a pile of smoking rubble.

The riots were instigated by the capture of a 17-year-old Roma woman who allegedly tried to snatch a six-year-old girl. Hundreds of families were sent packing posthaste, fleeing the scene with handcarts and small vehicles.

Since then, the country has seen a series of attacks that have led some to suggest an increasingly hostile environment for the newly multiethnic country.

Background: Italy’s rightward shift

Reference: Italy

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