ROME (Reuters) - Protests over a migrant center in a run-down suburb of Rome this week have exposed a crisis in poor areas of the Italian capital suffering after years of neglect and mismanagement of infrastructure compounded by Italy’s deep economic crisis.
Rome’s mayor Ignazio Marino was greeted on Friday by an angry crowd in Tor Sapienza, a struggling area on the eastern outskirts of the city where residents accuse migrants in the reception center of drug trafficking and street harassment.
During several days of sometimes violent protests, the building, housing around 70 people including a number of homeless Italians, has been damaged and authorities have been forced to evacuate children from the center.
“Only someone living on the moon could think that there aren’t going to be protests in areas that are in difficulty,” Marino said in a statement following his visit.
Rome city authorities have been accused of letting social problems build up in disadvantaged areas where years of economic crisis have squeezed household incomes, slashed public services and left hundreds of thousands out of work.
Although Rome has experienced nothing like the violence seen in poor suburbs of Paris in 2005, the problems facing the poor areas in many Italian cities is alarming authorities.
Over several days of violence in Tor Sapienza, protesters have shouted insults at the migrants, thrown stones and flares and set rubbish skips alight. Several rightwing and anti-immigrant politicians have visited the area to express solidarity with residents.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano warned on Saturday that poor areas of Rome, well out of sight of the historic center known to millions of tourists, were overburdened.
“The risk is setting off a war among the poor,” he said in an interview with Rome daily Il Messaggero. “Romans, like other Italians, aren’t racist, they’re tired,” he said.
More than 100,000 immigrants have arrived in Italy by boat from Africa this year, fuelling resentment among the poor and boosting support for anti-immigrant parties like the Northern League.
Tor Sapienza already includes three reception centers and a separate camp housing Rom people, mainly from eastern Europe. It also suffers from problems ranging from open prostitution, crime and drug dealing to potholed streets left without lighting because thieves have stolen copper cabling.
In September, Corcolle, another eastern suburb saw similar violence and there have been repeated attacks on immigrants in both Rome and other cities.
Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle