Italian boy lauded for standing up to fascists amid violence over Roma minority

Inhabitants of Rome's Torre Maura suburb hold Italian flags during a protest in Rome, Italy, on April 3, 2019.
Inhabitants of Rome's Torre Maura suburb hold Italian flags during a protest in Rome, Italy, on April 3, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

ROME - An Italian boy who confronted far-right activists amid violent protests on Tuesday (April 2) against the Roma minority has been lauded across the country.

Simone, 15, spoke up in defence of minorities on Tuesday as residents and far-right activists protested on the streets of Torre Maura, east of Rome, against housing some 70 Roma people in the area.

Simone raised his hand to intervene as one of the leaders of the neo-fascist CasaPound party was telling journalists why local residents do not want the Roma minority around, The Guardian reported on its website on Friday (April 5).

Simone said, as quoted by the newspaper: "I don't think like you.

"What you are doing here in Torre Maura is exploiting the anger of the people. You turn this anger into votes, for your interests."

His comments were filmed and went viral around the country, and was picked up by thge media.

Simone said: "This thing of always going against minorities is not okay with me. When you then talk about European funds to invest in the neighbourhood, I think those funds must be spent on everyone.

"No one should be left behind. Neither the Italians, nor the Roma, nor the Africans should be abandoned."

Laura Boldrini, leader of the opposition Free and Equal party, said the young man had told the country's fascists "that the distress of the inhabitants of the suburbs should not be exploited", The Guardian reported.

Meanwhile, Italian judicial authorities say they have opened a probe after around 200 Rome residents and neo-fascists torched bins and shouted racist abuse at Roma families being temporarily housed in their neighbourhood, AFP reported.

"No to any form of violence, but no also to whoever dumps all the problems on the suburbs," said far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, repeating his vow to close all Roma camps.

The situation in Torre Maura degenerated on Tuesday night when the 70 Roma, including 30 children, were brought to be housed in a municipal building before being found a permanent home.

Some residents took to the streets to protest and were rapidly joined by activists from far-right groups CasaPound and Forza Nuova.

Protesters set fire to bins and trampled on food that had been provided for the Roma families, while hurling racist abuse, Italian media reported Thursday.

"Get lost, if you come out, we'll kill you," one protester shouted, the La Stampa newspaper reported. "We should burn them," another person shouted, against a background of chants of "Italy, fascism, revolution."

The judicial investigation will look into whether there was criminal damage and threats with racial hatred involved, Italian media said.

Anti-immigrant leader Salvini, also deputy prime minister, said after coming to power last year that he wanted a census of all Roma in Italy so that foreigners could be expelled.

Non-profit organisation Associazione 21 Luglio estimates there are between 120,000 and 180,000 Roma, Sinti and traveller people in Italy, of whom roughly 16,400 live in formally recognised camps, AFP reported.

Of the camp residents, 43 percent are Italian citizens, while the rest come from ex-Yugoslav countries - around 3,000 of whom are stateless.

Despite Roma making up at most 0.3 per cent of Italy's population, they can be subject to extreme hostility from the general public.

The people living in Roma camps are often blamed for a variety of petty crimes like pick-pocketing, copper theft and break-ins, AFP said.

Two of Rome's major organised crime gangs are headed up by two long-settled Sinti families that control drug distribution in certain sections of the city.