Ethnic cleansing in Italy

The fascist policies of the Italian government are finding fertile ground, as blame for everything from crime and social instability to unemployment is heaped on Italy’s immigrant population, who are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis.

Immigrants battle racists

At the beginning of January, hundreds of African immigrants were driven out of the town of Rosarno in southern Italy by its white citizens who were spurred on by the local Ndrangheta mafia and supported by the police.

Rosarno has for years depended on immigrant labour to pick the oranges, tangerines and kiwi fruit on which its economy relies. The immigrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, were housed in disused factories and barracks, often with no electricity or running water, in the most appalling conditions, described by the local priest as ‘something out of Dante’s inferno’. During the picking season, they worked a 12-14 hour day, for which they were paid €20 – a quarter of which had to be handed over to the Ndrangheta, who control the area.

On Thursday 7 January, white youths, thought to be from the Ndrangheta, fired from a car at a group of immigrants returning from work, injuring two of them. In response, and in protest against their conditions, hundreds of immigrants took to the streets, accusing the townspeople of racism and demanding to be treated with dignity. Cars were burned and windows smashed as they fought pitched battles against residents, who were spurred on by the mafia, and the police, who used tear gas against the protesters. Some were beaten with iron bars. Roberto Saviano, author of Gomorrah, an exposé of gangs of southern Italy, praised the immigrants for their stand, saying they had done more than anyone else in Italian society to confront the mafia. However, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, of the fascist Northern League, declared an ‘immigration emergency’ and formed a regional task force to ‘guarantee public order’. Its main task was to drive the immigrants out of town. A van with loudspeakers drove around Rosarno blaring: ‘Any black person who is hiding in Rosarno should get out. If we catch you, we will kill you.’ Representatives of the white population occupied the town hall, demanding the removal of ‘i negri’. The next day more than 1,000 immigrants – including those with documentation – were bussed out of Rosarno to government holding centres, with promises that they would not be deported. Roberto Maroni then declared that they would all be expelled after all. He claimed the government had ‘brilliantly resolved the problem of public order’ and thanked police for organising the exodus ‘in an exemplary way.’ On Sunday 10 January, bulldozers were sent in to destroy every trace of the immigrants’ wretched homes, including all the possessions they had left behind.

White Christmas

In December, in northern Italy, the town of Coccaglio launched Operation White Christmas – an official drive to identify and expel as many ‘non-Europeans’ as possible before Christmas. Northern League Mayor Claretti was given new powers to check the residence status of all foreigners in the town with house-to-house searches: ‘We just want to start cleaning the place up.’ His councillor for security Claudio Abiendi, also a member of the Northern League, said that Christmas was not about hospitality but ‘the Christian tradition and our identity’. 3,000 people – out of a population of 8,000 – marched through the town to protest against such ethnic cleansing.

Backed by the vicious racist law passed by the Berlusconi government in August 2009 that criminalises ‘illegal’ immigrants, fascist elements in Italy’s police force, government and in the mafia are being given free rein to scapegoat, attack and expel immigrant communities. In Rosarno, some of the residents stood by the immigrant population against the racists and the mafia; in Coccaglio more than a third of the population protested. They demonstrated that resistance to fascism is possible, even in the League’s northern heartland. It has certainly never been more necessary.

Cat Alison

FRFI 213 February / March 2010


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