Italy: Gypsy Camp Burnt Down outside Napoli
- Gypsy shanty towns burn in Naples as Italian police swoop on illegal
Roma Camps in Naples Burnt by Xenophobic Locals after Kidnapping
Richard Owen in Naples
Italian police began a nationwide round-up of nearly
400 illegal immigrants from the Balkans and North Africa
yesterday in the midst of a series of arson attacks
on Roma gypsy camps in the suburbs of Naples.
The first step in a drive on crime promised by the new centre-right
government of Silvio Berlusconi targeted temporary encampments
on the outskirts of cities from Naples to northern Italy. Some 118
people held in the operation were ordered to be expelled immediately
for offences ranging from drug dealing and robbery to prostitution.
But in Naples local people have anticipated the new policy,
taking the law into their own hands.
This week's assaults on Roma shanty towns by scores of youths
on scooters and motorbikes wielding iron bars and throwing
Molotov cocktails were sparked off by the capture
of a 17-year-old Roma girl who last weekend
entered a flat in Ponticelli and tried to steal a 6-year-old girl.
Chased by the mother and neighbours, she
had to be rescued by police from being lynched.
The city erupted in fury, with local women leading the marches
on the Roma camps to the chant of "Fuori, fuori [Out, out]".
Night after night young men allegedly acting on the orders
of powerful local clans of the Camorra, the Naples Mafia
have set the sites ablaze, blocking attempts
by the fire brigade to put out the fires,
with exploding gas canisters completing the destruction.
The women jeered at the firemen, shouting,
"You put these fires out, we start them again".
Plumes of smoke were still rising yesterday from the smouldering,
blackened ruins of a Roma gypsy camp attacked and burnt
to the ground by local vigilantes in Ponticelli, a rundown industrial
suburb in the east of Naples in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.
The charred remains of the makeshift wooden shacks
at the site on Via Malibran crunch underfoot.
The only sign of life is dogs scavenging through
the neighbouring mountain of uncollected, rotting rubbish.
There are similar scenes of devastation at camps nearby,
including one in the incongruously named Via Virginia Woolf.
At one squalid "nomad camp" beneath a motorway flyover,
intact but deserted, a policeman guarding the site said that
the inhabitants had fled during the night to avoid being attacked.
The signs of hasty panic were everywhere, with doors to the shacks
left open and the ground strewn with clothing, shoes, bicycles,
plastic bottles, pots and pans and children's toys.
Hundreds of Roma families have fled for their lives with their
belongings piled on to small pick-up trucks or handcarts.
Some have been taken under police protection to a former school
used to house illegal immigrants in a northern Naples suburb.
Others have found refuge at Roma camps elsewhere
in the Campania region, while a few have been taken in
by Naples residents shocked at this outbreak of "xenophobia".
The Naples arson attacks, however, are the result
of long-festering anger throughout Italy over rising crime levels
and urban degradation, much of it blamed on Roma gypsies
and the estimated half a million Romanians who have emigrated
to Italy since Romania joined the European Union.
According to the Roma rights group, Opera Nomadi, there are
2,500 Roma in Naples,
1,000 from Romania and
1,500 from the Balkans.
A spokesperson for the United Nations High Commission
for Refugees (UNHCR) drew parallels with Roma people
forced to flee from the Balkans, saying:
"We never thought we'd see such images in Italy."
In Rome, where Gianni Alemanno, the new right-wing mayor,
has vowed to dismantle "nomad camps" to reduce street crime,
police raided a Roma camp, loading the inhabitants
on to buses and taking them to detention centres.
Mr Alemanno has promised to deport 20,000 illegal immigrants.
Today the Berlusconi Cabinet will approve an emergency
"security package" drawn up by Robert Maroni, the new Interior
Minister and deputy leader of the anti immigrant Northern League.
It includes the dismantling of Roma camps, the appointment
of "special commissioners" to deal with "the Roma problem"
in Rome and Milan, the tightening of border controls
and the speeded-up deportation of immigrants
who cannot show they have a job or an "adequate" income.
Mr Maroni also wants to make illegal immigration a criminal offence.
Mr Berlusconi vowed during last month's election campaign
to curb illegal immigrants, describing them as an "army of evil".
Mr Berlusconi has also pledged to hold a Cabinet meeting
in Naples next Wednesday to resolve the continuing
rubbish crisis amid fears of an epidemic as warmer weather arrives.
Yesterday Flora Martinelli, the mother who caught the
Roma teenager trying to steal her baby at Ponticelli, said she was
"very sorry for what has happened. I didn't think it would come to
But she said, "We have absolutely had it with the Roma, they have to go."
At one of the few remaining nomad camps, terrified Roma people
were reluctant to speak.
"We are not all criminals" insisted one thirty-year-old man.
But at the market opposite the burnt-out Via Malibran camp,
local people were unrepentant.
"The gypsies don't work, they don't wash, and they steal,"
said one youth. "This is our version of ethnic cleansing."
Cristian David, the Romanian Interior Minister, arrived in Rome
yesterday for talks on the crisis. Calin Popeascu Tariceanu,
the Romanian Prime Minister, said Italy should have followed
the example of France and Germany in refusing to allow
nomad encampments to spring up.
He said a distinction must be drawn between
"honest Romanians" with jobs and criminals who
"have tainted the image of all Romanians working abroad".
Giulio Riccio, head of social policy at the Naples council,
condemned the "criminal aggression" at the Roma camps,
adding "I am ashamed to be Italian". Rosa Iervolino Russo,
the Mayor of Naples, said she deplored "all violent and racist actions".
Franco Frattini, the Foreign Minister and former EU Commissioner,
denied the new Italian government was "xenophobic"
but said the Schengen agreement on free movement
across EU frontiers needed to be "updated".
It is estimated that there are at last 700,000 illegal immigrants in
Pietro Fusella, manager of a hotel in Via Chiaia, in Naples'
historic centre, said both the rubbish cisis and the attacks
on Roma camps were unjustly damaging the city's image.
"Both problems are in the suburbs, not the centre" he said.
He had put up a webcam on the hotel website to show
that the street outside was "clean and safe".
Last year the centre-left government of Romano Prodi expelled
over 200 Romanians with criminal records after a Romanian
was accused of murdering an Italian woman at a Rome railway station.
However, the centre-right swept to power in elections last month,
arguing that much tougher measures were needed.
Pictures: Roma camps torched
Click here to launch the slide show
Roma Camps in Naples
have been burnt by locals after dispute.
A Roma gypsy camp attacked was attacked and burned
by local vigilantes in Ponticelli (Ciro Fusco/EPA)
Ponticelli is a run down industrial suburb in the east of Naples
in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius (Francesco Pischetola/AFP/Getty)
Local people anticipated a crackdown on families
living in nomadic camps by taking the law into their own hands
(Ciro De Luca/Agnfoto/Reuters)
This week saw assaults on Roma shanty towns
by scores of youths on scooters and motorbikes
wielding iron bars and throwing Molotov cocktails
The violence errupted after a Roma girl, 17, entered a flat in
Ponticelli and tried to kidnap a baby girl, police had to rescue the
girl from the clutches of a lynch mob (Renato Nicois/Agnfoto/Reuters)
Local residents jeered at firemen trying to extinguish the flames,
shouting: "You put these fires out, we start them again."
Hundreds of Roma families fled for their lives with their belongings
piled onto small pick up trucks or handcarts like war refugees
Cabinet will approve an emergency "security package"
drawn up right-wing members of the governing coalition
Some Roma families have been taken under police protection
to a former school used to house illegal immigrants
in a northern Naples suburb (Francesco Pischetola/AFP/Getty)
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