ROME – Riot police moved in Thursday to prevent residents of a neighborhood on Rome's outskirts from attacking refugees living at a holding center in the latest incident of anti-immigrant tensions rocking Italy.
The working-class neighborhood of Tor Sapienza has seen several days and nights of violence against refugees by residents who blame foreigners for crimes. The residents say they're not racist, but are fed up with what they say are years of neglect by government authorities who have allowed gypsies, migrants and asylum-seekers to settle in Rome's peripheries without providing adequate services.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees condemned the violence, saying refugees and unaccompanied minors fleeing war and conflict deserve protection, respect and help integrating, not "unacceptable" acts of violence and intolerance.
In a statement, the UNHCR condemned "extremists" who are capitalizing on residents' fears to fuel conflict.
Officials at the "Smile" center said unaccompanied minors living at the center — most aged 16 and 17 from Egypt and Bangladesh — were being moved to another center in Rome for their own security after another small clash broke out Thursday.
"We are scared. We are trying to find a compromise with the residents," said Francesco Amato, an official who works at the center.
Italian commentators say at least some of the perpetrators are believed to be members of far-right groups — there have been chants of "Il Duce" in a reference to Italy's fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
The clashes come as Italy copes with record number of migrants arriving on its shores after fleeing conflicts in Syria and Africa. Earlier this month Italy partially handed over its sea rescue operation to the European Union after coming under pressure domestically to end the costly operation.