When Social Unrest Vents Itself on Migrants

  • by Silvia Giannelli (rome)
  • Sunday, November 30, 2014
  • Inter Press Service

Giuseppe Giorgioli, an inhabitant of the Tor Sapienza district of Rome and a member of the Tor Sapienza Committee, was explaining the mid-November outburst in the district against a reception centre for asylum seekers and refugees, in which dozens of paper bombs were thrown.

The Tor Sapienza district, situated in the east side of the Italian capital, is home to almost 13 thousands citizens and, according to Giorgioli, is treated as a "second class quarter" by the Rome administration because of its relatively small dimensions.3

"For the last 10 to 15 years there has been a progressive phenomenon of disruption-parking in our suburb. This is how we ended up hosting four reception centres for migrants and two gypsy camps, while other districts in the city have none," Giorgioli complained.

The residents' uprising followed an alleged attempt of rape by a Romanian citizen against a local resident and a series of attempted robberies in apartments in the neighbourhood.

The Tor Sapienza Committee had organised a demonstration to ask the Rome Town Council to act against the urban decay the neighbourhood is suffering but once the march was over, a group of people – about one hundred according to witnesses – gathered in front of the building where the 'Il Sorriso' cooperative manages different services, including a reception centre for asylum seekers and refugees and three structures hosting foreign unaccompanied minors.

"When I arrived in the centre the following morning, I found huge pieces of asphalt, broken glass and people – both adults and minors – suffering from panic attacks," recalls Alessia Armini of Italy's System of Protection for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR), who is coordinator of the cooperative. "Let's not forget the kind of vulnerable guests we have in such centres," she adds.

While no one denies the critical conditions suffered by many suburbs in Rome, with cuts in transport services, council houses not having been refurbished for decades and inefficient garbage collection among others, the explanations for such a violent outburst vary widely.

"People are not racists, they are exasperated. Rome is just the tip of the iceberg, but this is about the whole country," Paolo Grimoldi, MP for right-wing Northern League party, told IPS. "When you receive 150 thousand migrants – we say illegal, the government says refugees – in one year who are given a house, money and are taken care of by the State, this inevitably destabilises our social fabric."

However, according to Monsignor Giancarlo Perego who runs Migrantes, the foundation of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) for migrants, the numbers tell a different story: "Migrants are abandoning our country because it no longer represents an economic opportunity for many of them," he told IPS.

"The reasons must be found in a management of the suburbs that looked at the interests of building speculators rather than guaranteeing common assets such as meeting places that are necessary to build a feeling of safety within a territory."

In addition, the economic crisis also plays an important role also in this context. "Episodes incident are being worsened by a growing poverty that now affects 13 million people in Italy, with 42 percent of young people unemployed," said Perego.

"But such a difficult situation does not exempt us from the need of building relationships, delivering correct information and managing the places where people live in order to encourage encounters and not social clashes."

For their part, the citizens of Tor Sapienza firmly reject any accusation of racism. "We welcome everybody and we've been welcoming everybody for twenty years," Giorgioli told IPS.

"You don't become racist in four days. But there are rules that need to be respected and services that the town council needs to provide. If such services are not provided, unfortunately someone with less patience begins to see red."

In the days that followed the attack on the reception centre, both local and national politicians visited the neighbourhood, provoking strong criticism – and not only from angry citizens – that they were using the situation for instrumental reasons.

"I think that any form of manipulation, whether from left or right, is a serious aspect to be avoided. Politicians must govern a city, not pour in new reasons for social clashes," Perego said.

Meanwhile, the violent episode in Tor Sapienza and signs of social unrest in other Italian neighbourhoods that have sparked debate and drawn attention to the migrant issue are not to be underestimated.

"In these suburbs, the level of social distress is extremely high, but all that hate, taking a symbol and pouring everything out on it … it's frightening," said Armini. "We heard people screaming ‘let's burn them all, let's make soap out of them'. This issue brought out the worst in people."

While condemning the recent violence, Giorgioli of the Tor Sapienza Committee is not sure that such situations will not be repeated

"I have reasons to fear that the same people who have already shown that they are capable of violent actions will repeat them if there are no signs of change. They could feel disrespected, as if the institutions were making a fool of them."

(Edited by Phil Harris)

© Inter Press Service (2014) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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