Why do they have to be taken care of? It’s me that needs taking care of!”
Like many of Italy’s poor, 51-year-old Elvio has had enough. And the unemployed construction worker thinks he knows who to blame.
Born and raised in a rundown suburb of Rome where residents last week laid violent siege to a holding centre for asylum seekers, Elvio belongs to a strata of Italian society whose frustration is beginning to boil over after years of falling incomes, employment and hope.
And with the country struggling to cope with an influx of tens of thousands of migrants fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, that anger increasingly has a focus.
With numerous abandoned properties, some of which have been squatted by illegal immigrants, the “quartiere” has certainly seen better days.
The number of non-Italians living here is higher than in other parts of the capital.
Yet it is worlds away from the bleak housing estates that dot the peripheries of cities like Paris or London and, to outsiders, last week’s eruption of anger could easily appear rooted in ugly xenophobia.
– Rape claim spark –
As Elvio tells it, the violence erupted after a local girl reported having been subjected to an attempted rape.
What is known is that a building housing around 50 migrants was pelted with stones, flares and other missiles for three consecutive nights. Windows were smashed, rubbish bins set ablaze and there were pitched battles with riot police that became sufficiently serious for the city authorities to order the removal of teenagers from the centre.
There was also some evidence of the local protest being hijacked by far right groups with references to “Il Duce” – as Italy’s former dictator Benito Mussolini styled himself – featuring alongside overtly racist and anti-Islamic chants.
A prominent member of the fast-rising, anti-immigrant Northern League was one of the first politicians on the scene.
The residents of the centre responded to the attacks on them in an open letter appealing to the generosity of spirit that has led to the Italian navy plucking some 150,000 migrants from the brink of death in the Mediterranean over the last year.
Tiziana Teti, a 40-year-old mother of a five-year-old girl, would rather the escapees from conflicts in Afghanistan/Pakistan and the Horn of Africa did that elsewhere.
– Scapegoats and panic –
Local pharmacist Salvatore says the migrants are easy scapegoats.
Alessia Armini, who coordinates the municipal service that deals with the asylum-seekers, agrees.