ROME: UN human rights officials said Tuesday that they were worried about Italy’s deep-rooted racism against migrants following clashes in a southern town between African farmworkers, residents and police.
Hundreds of Africans fled the farm town of Rosarno in the underdeveloped southern region of Calabria in trains, cars and caravans of buses arranged by authorities. Their departure came after two days of violence that erupted last week when two migrants were shot with a pellet gun in an attack they blamed on racism.
Dozens were injured in clashes between the migrants and local residents and officials. Three migrants were severely beaten with metal rods.
The violence is “extremely worrying since it reveals serious and deep-rooted problems of racism against these migrant workers, UN rights officials Jorge Bustamante and Githu Muigai said in a statement.
Bustamante is the UN’s special rapporteur on migrants’ rights. Muigai is special rapporteur on racism and intolerance.
Egypt’s foreign ministry also called on the Italian government to protect the migrants and minorities against widespread discrimination.
“The latest round of violence was one example of various kinds of violations which migrants and minorities, including Arab Muslim minorities, in Italy face, Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said in a statement that alleged “discrimination, violence and hatred.
Italy hosts a large community of Egyptians who reach the country as workers under bilateral agreements or cross the Mediterranean illegally. No Egyptians have been involved in the clashes.
A few of the 1,000 or so migrants who fled Rosarno were from Arab-speaking Algeria. The vast majority were from sub-Saharan African countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Ivory Coast and Burkino Faso.
Italy’s foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said he was ready to speak to Egypt but denied that any religious motivation was behind the clashes, according to the ANSA news agency. Frattini, who is on a tour to some African nations, was speaking from Mauritania.
Police were reacting to “ordinary violence, unacceptable violence that has nothing to do with Egypt, Frattini was quoted as saying. “It has absolutely nothing to do with religious motivation.
It was not clear why Egypt complained about religious discrimination as a factor behind the violence.
Tensions have been simmering in much of Italy between a steadily growing immigrant population and Italians, many of whom resent the foreigners yet rely on their labor to do the agricultural, domestic or factory work they shun.
Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s government, with the anti-immigrant Northern League a key coalition partner, has been cracking down on illegal migrants. UN officials, human rights groups and the Vatican have been among those criticizing aspects of the campaign.
Officials have said the riots may have been provoked by the local crime syndicate, called ‘ndrangheta, although some authorities have expressed skepticism.
Briefing the Italian Senate on the clashes on Tuesday, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, a Northern League official, dismissed criticism over the handling of the crisis. He praised police officers for “putting an end to the violence before it could degenerate.
Maroni said the clashes highlighted “the negative consequences of clandestine immigration. However, in giving the breakdown of the migrants who were living in Rosarno, he acknowledged that the overwhelming majority were in Italy legally.
Maroni pledged that authorities would inspect farms and companies in the area to ensure that immigrants are employed legally and their rights respected.
In all, 21 migrants were injured in the clashes, with eight still hospitalized, Maroni said. Eighteen police officers and 14 residents were also injured. Seven foreigners and three Italians were arrested.
Earlier Tuesday, police arrested 13 suspected mobsters in pre-dawn raids in Rosarno and nearby towns. While the arrests were not directly linked to the riots, they targeted the main clan active in the area, said Renato Cortese, a top official with the local police.
Cortese said the suspects are accused of Mafia association and that assets worth million of euros were confiscated. Among the assets that were seized were supermarkets and cars, said ANSA. -AP Writers Frank Jordans in Geneva and Salah Nasrawi in Cairo contributed to this report.