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SOAVE, Italy – The migrant crisis has arrived in the small, Italian winemaking town of Soave, where the mayor is fending off plans to house more than 100 new arrivals and a growing protest movement is capitalizing on U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's victory to seek an end to the politics of integration.
Small towns like Soave avoided the dilemma for years, even as cities coped with the tens of thousands of migrants rescued at sea. But the system is burgeoning amid persistent migrant arrivals — a record 27,500 in October, bringing to nearly 160,000 total so far this year — and tighter border controls under pressure from European neighbors.
Prefects nationwide have been looking for space — empty hotels, disused barracks — and communities have been mounting increasing resistance. They succeeded in the Adriatic clamming town of Goro, and a round-the-clock presidio is being staffed near barracks in the Lombard town of Montichiari. The prefect in Cagliari in Sardinia last week received a package with a pair of bullets in protest of migrant relocations.
In the latest demonstration, more than 1,000 people marched under torchlight through the Medieval center of Soave, an idyllic walled town of 7,100 in the province of Verona surrounded by vineyards tucked in Italy's industrial heartland.
Many arrived from towns and cities nearby, marching behind a banner, "Verona for Veronese," and chanting, "Italy for Italians," slogans of a growing movement honing in on discontent as more communities stand up against the Rome government's plans to relocate asylum-seekers in their midst. Residents who joined them cited security concerns and the imperative to help Italians still stung by the economic crisis or suffering after the recent string of quakes.
Organizers from the "Verona for Veronese" movement that has organized recent protests throughout the province, with some successes in delaying relocations, say they are convinced that the Trump vote will awaken support for fringe groups in Italy.
"The vote in America shouldn't be seen as a springboard, but as a strong trampoline to re-establish order in our cities," protest organizer Luca Castellini said. "The multiracial society is a failure. It has failed even in the country (the U.S.) that was born as a multiracial society."
In Castellini's view, the disenfranchised vote in Italy, the next time polls come around, won't go toward leading populist movements like the 5-Star Movement, or even the anti-migrant Northern League, which has played roles in past center-right governments. It's starting to align itself with more extreme right-wing movements in France, the Netherlands and Russia, he said.
"It will go to movements outside the system that will succeed in having the possibility to rise above the media and make themselves seen in the public arena, movements like Forza Nuova," he said, citing a nationalist movement widely seen as neo-Fascist.
The popular anger exuded by people marching through the heart of Soave's center was in contrast to the bureaucratic battle being waged by the mayor to prevent the resettlement of 100 migrants to a hotel in the town's industrial zone.
"What worries me most in this moment isn't so much helping someone who could need help, it is the fact of uncertainty," Mayor Lino Gambaretto told The Associated Press. "How much time? What will happen next? When the money from the EU, if they give it to us, won't be there anymore, who will be responsible for these people, when at this time I can't guarantee services to the people of Soave who are in difficulty."
Gambaretto, who heads a center-right administration with no political affiliation, didn't participate in the protests, but said he would if national officials imposed an excessive number of migrants.
To help stop the project, Gambaretto has proposed enrolling Soave in the Interior Ministry's system to organize shelter for asylum-seekers, which has set proposed limits at three asylum-seekers for every 1,000 residents in participating towns.
Under that, Soave's quota of about 21 would be nearly met by one community of about 10 asylum-seekers already in the village of Fitta' and another set to open soon with six to eight asylum-seekers in the neighboring village of Castelcerino, both under Soave's administration.
The Rev. Paolo Pasetto, a Soave native, runs a transitional home in Fitta' for former drug addicts, the homeless and others who have fallen on hard luck. Building on that experience, he is working to open an asylum-seeker shelter in a closed trattoria in neighboring Castelcerino in December.
"We feel in our hearts the need to respond even in small numbers to this drama, which we aren't capable of managing. And where we can't manage things, we find fear and anger. We understand the difficulties of the community," he said.
Even as protesters claim that Italy needs to take care of Italians first, Pasetto notes that few have come to offer aid to the mostly Italians he has helped over the last dozen years. And he expressed disappointment that most residents of Castelcerino chose to boycott a recent meeting where he outlined plans to help the incoming asylum-seekers adjust to life in Italy.
Still, he remains optimistic that people will come around.
"We know it is a town of good people, tied to the land, who know how to work, people who once they get over this first phase of difficulties, there will be another phase where we are able to confront these difficulties together," he said.