Tuesday, January 12, 2010

mafia suspected of provoking calabrian race riots

NYTimes | More than a thousand African workers were put aboard buses and trains in the southern Italian region of Calabria over the weekend and shipped out to immigrant detention centers, following some of the country’s worst riots in years.

The clashes began Thursday night in Rosarno, a working-class city amid citrus groves in Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot, after a legal immigrant from Togo was lightly wounded in a pellet-gun attack in a nearby city. It is not clear who pulled the trigger — the authorities said they were investigating whether organized crime had provoked the riots — but the consequences were severe.

Blaming racism for the attack, dozens of immigrants burned cars and smashed shop windows in Rosarno in two days of riots, throwing rocks at local residents and fighting with the police. More than 50 immigrants and police officers were wounded, none seriously, and 10 immigrants and locals were arrested before the authorities began sending the immigrants to detention centers elsewhere in southern Italy on Saturday.

The images emerging from Calabria over the weekend — of torched cars and angry African immigrants hurling rocks — were the most vivid example of the growing racial tensions in Italy, which have been exacerbated by an economic crisis whose depth has only recently been acknowledged in the national dialogue. Both the official and underground economies increasingly rely on immigrants, while Italy remains torn between acceptance and xenophobia.

The riots also shone a bright light on a side of the country rarely seen in tourist itineraries. On Sunday, the authorities began bulldozing the makeshift encampments outside Rosarno where hundreds of immigrants live in what human rights groups describe as subhuman conditions. They are often paid less than $30 a day picking fruit, a job that many Italians see as beneath them. Organized crime syndicates are known to have a strong grip on every level of the Calabrian economy.

“This event pulled the lid off something that we who work in the sector know well but no one talks about: That many Italian economic realities are based on the exploitation of low-cost foreign labor, living in subhuman conditions, without human rights,” said Flavio Di Giacomo, the spokesman for the International Organization for Migration in Italy.

The workers live in “semi-slavery,” added Mr. Di Giacomo, who said, “It’s shameful that this is happening in the heart of Italy.”