EGYPT strongly condemned on Tuesday attacks on African farm workers in southern Italy and voiced concerns about the Muslim minority there, just days before Italy’s foreign minister is due in Cairo.
‘The foreign ministry deplores the violence that occurred in the Italian town of Rosarno,’ and ‘the massive campaign of aggression’ against immigrants, ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said in a statement.
‘The latest violence is only one facet of the numerous violations that immigrants and ethnic minorities in Italy are exposed to, including Arab and Muslim minorities,’ he added, criticising what he termed the propagation of ‘racist behaviour’ and ‘a language of hatred.’
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit will raise the subject when his Italian counterpart Franco Frattini visits Cairo on Saturday, Zaki said.
Violence erupted in the Calabrian town of Rosarno on Thursday when hundreds of immigrants, most of them Africans, demonstrated against their conditions after some of them had been shot at with air rifles, according to Italian media.
More than a thousand immigrants fled Rosarno in the wake of the violence.
Italy’s Northern League, a party allied with the centre-right People of Freedom led by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, has backed several initiatives hostile to Muslims.
Egypt wants the UN to adopt a resolution on the controversial issue of religious defamation, condemning incitement to religious discrimination, hostility or violence, in an effort to prevent attacks against Islam in Europe.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian group Medecins Sans Frontieres on Tuesday slammed Italy over the plight of African migrants in the south of the country where racial violence broke.
‘Rosarno is not an isolated case,’ said Loris de Filippi of MSF’s Italian branch, referring to the Calabrian town where authorities helped some 1,000 migrants to flee to safety after two days of unrest.
‘Everyone – the authorities and employers – is aware of the miserable conditions of these immigrants. Throughout southern Italy, illegal immigrants work for us in a situation that resembles slavery,’ De Filippi told a news conference. ‘There is widespread hypocrisy.’
‘Hardly anything has changed for the thousands of seasonal immigrants since we began work (on the issue) in 2003,’ De Filippi said.
‘Each year, our humanitarian workers return to the same places and witness the same horrible conditions,’ he said.
‘It is high time that the Italian authorities set about improving conditions for the seasonal workers,’ De Filippi added.
Alessandra Tramontana, an MSF medical official, said conditions were ‘often worse than in refugee camps in Africa’.
Seasonal workers are ‘victims of a perverse economic and political system that exploits them and at the same time tolerates them, but then criminalises them,’ MSF said in a 2007 report.
The world watched in disbelief as tensions between African immigrants and residents came to an ugly head in Rosarno, Reggio Calabria, last week. To understand what happened we first need to know something about the immigrants’ situation: 8,000 of Italy’s immigrants live in Calabria and the majority of those who come from Africa work picking fruit or vegetables.
Many are in Italy illegally and are therefore illegally employed. They are exploited and work 12-hour days for 20 – 25 euros.
At the end of their working day, these immigrants do not return to any home comforts, for they live in groups in abandoned, insalubrious buildings.
In Rosarno about 1,000 African workers were living in a disused food warehouse with 8 chemical toilets and 3 showers. There was no electricity and, until last year, no running water.
We also need to look back at 2008, when two immigrants in Rosarno were shot and seriously wounded in the disused factory where they were sleeping.
On that occasion the African immigrants in the town protested peacefully about the attack, going to the town hall and asking only to be treated humanely and with dignity.
The violence against them is believed to be linked to the ‘Ndrangheta Calabrian Mafia and for this reason they also surrounded the house of a former boss of the criminal organisation during their protest.
Many of Rosarno’s 15,000 Italian residents, meanwhile, felt disgust at the ‘dirty’ communities living on the edge of their town, threatened by the number of immigrants in their midst and, in difficult economic times, resentful at any help the immigrants were receiving or were thought to be receiving and particularly resentful towards the illegal immigrants.
Italian authorities held an extraordinary summit Monday aimed at identifying possible Mafia connections in the outbreak of racial riots in the southern Calabrian town of Rosarno.
The unrest exploded on Thursday night after immigrants torched cars and litter bins in response to an initial air-rifle shooting. The rioting went on for two days, with clashes between locals and migrant workers.
Some 53 people including 18 policemen were injured in the protest, which has brought to light the country’s heavy immigration problem.
An inquiry is under way to identify possible Mafia responsibilities in the riots and exploitation of immigrant work in Rosarno. At least one clan-linked man was among those arrested for the attacks.
According to the police, the Mafia may have taken advantage of the riots in order to distort attention from a recent failed bomb explosion at the prosecutor’s office.
The situation in Rosarno is now under right-wing state control. More than 1,000 immigrants, mainly farm labourers from sub-Saharan Africa, either fled the area or were transferred to migrant centres during the weekend.
Their dwellings have been bulldozed by the authorities.
The government aims to move immigrants out of other high-crime areas near Naples and in Sicily.
The Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said on Monday that all illegal refugees will be expelled from the country. In his view Rosarno’s riots were the product of Italy’s far too lenient immigration policy.