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17 Jul, 2017 19:12

Italian mayors protest arrival of migrants into towns, demand fair distribution of asylum seekers

Desperate mayors across Italy are staging rallies and embarking on hunger strikes to protest what they say is an unequitable number of predominantly North African migrants being settled in their towns.

Vincenzo Lionetto Civa, the mayor of Castell’Umberto, a small town on the isle of Sicily, launched his protest Saturday after receiving a call informing him that 50 migrants were to be accommodated in an old hotel.

The mayor said the alert was belated as the asylum seekers were already housed in the hotel when he arrived to inspect the facility.

“I’m upset because I’m the mayor of this town and the government literally went over our heads,” Civa said as cited by RT’s Ruptly video agency.

He shared the news with locals on Facebook and soon a crowd of 500 people gathered outside the hotel. 

The protesters barricaded the entrances to the building with cars and prevented electricians from fixing the lights at the hotel, leaving the migrants in the dark.

 The mayor said that his fury was directed squarely at the government in Rome over its poor handling of the migrant influx.

Some 85,217 migrants have been rescued and brought to Italian shores so far this year, according to Italian Interior Ministry data released last Wednesday. This marks an 8.9 percent year-on-year increase.

“We have been invaded, over-run and overwhelmed by the migrant management system of these co-operatives, which know nothing about our communities,” Civa said.

The rally persisted throughout the weekend, with Civa eventually agreeing for the hotel to get electricity during the night hours.

The mayor dismissed reports that the water supply was also cut and that the protesters stopped food from being delivered to the migrants, in an interview with La Repubblica newspaper.

“We are not racists, we are not against the arrival of migrants,” Civa said, explaining that he only wants the newcomers to be distributed in accordance with the law. 

READ MORE: 'Defend Europe’': Far-right activists launch mission to rescue, send back illegals from Libya

The government’s plan envisages that asylum seekers are to be spread evenly across the country with a ratio of 2.5 migrants for every 1,000 Italian residents.

Fifty migrants are too much for Castell’Umberto, which is populated by just 3,200 people, the mayor argued.

Civa’s actions received wide support from his counterparts in Sicily. Some 35 mayors were expected to arrive in Castell’Umberto Monday to show support.

They planned to join the protest and draft a joint document, demanding a fair distribution of migrants and a say in decision making.

The Castell’Umberto mayor promised that the rally in front of the hotel will continue until the migrants are moved elsewhere.

The Sicily protests were backed by the anti-migrant Northern League, with the group’s head Matteo Salvini saying, “there is a demographic boom in Africa and if we don’t act we will be overrun,” as cited by the Sunday Times.

Earlier, the mayor of Besnate in Lombardy in northwest of the country, Giovanni Corbo, staged a hunger strike when 32 asylum seekers were sent to his town instead of an agreed-upon 15.

Corbo ended his fast Friday after receiving assurances from the government that “within the following few weeks other asylum seekers will be moved to other facilities until there are only 15 hosted in Besnate.”

“The time has come for asylum seeker reception to be based on something other than emergency measures. There must instead be a rational distribution across the country, flanked by careful management of migration flows,” the mayor wrote on Facebook.

In the small port town of Civitavecchia some 70 kilometres north-west of Rome, mayor Antonio Cozzolino, also expressed readiness to fight government plans to open a migrant registration center.

"The area is too small. I do not understand, how we could’ve been chosen,” Cozzolino said as cited by RAI.

With tensions mounting over the refugee influx, the Italian government said Monday that it’s postponing a parliamentary vote on the citizenship bill for the children of migrants, AFP reported.

READ MORE: EU countries decline to open ports as relief for Italy’s migrant influx

Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, explained the decision by other "urgent deadlines" and "difficulties that have arisen on certain fringes of the majority".

Gentiloni promised that the legislation will be approved by Italian deputies in autumn.

The bill proposes to give children, who were born in Italy to foreign parents, citizenship rights at birth or after at least five years of schooling in the country.