Italy residents set fire to beds in anti-migrant protest

ROME (AFP) - Residents in a chic Rome suburb and a northern Italian village staged angry anti-immigrant protests on Friday, with villagers setting mattresses ablaze in a bid to stop authorities from housing migrants.

Authorities in the village of Quito plan to accommodate 101 immigrants in empty apartments, but several residents broke into one of the buildings, removed camp beds, mattresses and televisions intended for the newcomers and set them on fire outside.

The protesters then put up tents, with the Corriere della Sera newspaper quoting them as saying: “We aren’t going home until they leave – this is an invasion.”

Italy is currently hosting more than 80,000 migrants who have crossed the Mediterranean fleeing war, persecution or poverty in the Middle East and Africa. The arrivals include many Africans, particularly Eritreans, as well as Syrians.

Luca Zaia, the president of Italy’s northern Veneto region and a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, told Italian television he agreed with the protesters, and complained about the “Africanisation” of his own region.

“This is a declaration of war for those who don’t understand what it means to put (migrants) alongside families with young children,” he said.

But Treviso prefect Maria Augusta Marrosu said: “They are staying, because they don’t have the choice.”

Graffiti sprayed on the side of a building in Quinto said in large red letters: “Prefect Marrosu, take them home.”

In Casale San Nicola, a well-heeled suburb north of Rome, around a hundred locals and an extreme-right group also staged a protest against the arrival of some 20 migrants.

The protesters shouted “You can’t bring them here” and “We are afraid for our daughters” as several women in the crowd formed a human chain in an effort to block the migrants’ bus.

Clashes erupted between the demonstrators and police, who escorted the migrants into a former school that has been turned into a reception centre.

Rome authorities condemned the protests and noted the location of the centre was carefully chosen in accordance with the law.

Italy’s resources are being severely stretched by the influx of migrants.

The interior ministry wants to share the burden across regions, but in many cases local governments do not have adequate facilities to host them, particularly in the north.

Lombardy, Italy’s richest region, is hosting 9 per cent of the migrants, while Veneto is hosting 4 per cent and Liguria 2 per cent. All three regions are in the country’s north.

Sicily is currently accommodating 22 per cent of the arrivals, according to official figures released in June.