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Immigrant unrest in Italy



Published: Mon, January 18, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

Immigrant unrest in Italy

Los Angeles Times: The United States has struggled with immigration and race since its founding, so it is easy to forget that these are relatively new issues for European states that were largely homogenous for centuries. We were reminded of this fact, however, when hundreds of African laborers rioted in southern Italy’s Calabria region for three days recently after Italian youths fired an air rifle at a group of foreign farmworkers.

Italy exported its own citizens for years and only began to admit large numbers of guest workers in the 1980s and ’90s. Since then, the foreign-born population has grown to at least 6.5 percent, and, like many of its neighbors in Europe, the Catholic country has been struggling to cope with xenophobia, cultural and religious pluralism, and the contentious politics of immigration.

Ugly scenes

The unrest in Calabria was not the first racial violence in the country, but it was the worst, with migrants burning cars and storefronts throughout the town of Rosarno and bands of Italians hunting down laborers to exact retribution. More than 50 people were injured. The government moved in with bulldozers to raze many of the immigrants’ housing encampments and transferred about 1,000 workers to other cities.

Most of the legal and illegal immigrants in the south pick citrus and vegetables, earning less than $30 a day. A part of that reportedly goes to pay for mafia protection, and some suggest that the riots were provoked by mafia enforcers seeking to drive out the workers in a bad economy.

Italians have yet to figure out how to assimilate foreigners who not only work their fields but take care of their children and fill low-paying, menial jobs. And unfortunately, the country lacks political leadership on these issues. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, returning to work after four weeks recovering from an attack, has made no public comment about the disturbing racial violence.


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