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People in Italian town protest opening of reception center for teenage migrants (VIDEOS)

Around two hundred activists gathered on Wednesday outside the city hall of Ventimiglia, northern Italy, to protest the construction of a reception center which would shelter 30 unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in Europe.

The demonstrators oppose the project sponsored by the Red Cross, saying they are concerned that the teenagers, who are 14 to 15 years old, would behave badly and potentially get involved in crime. They also told Mayor Enrico Ioculano they do not want their municipality to pay for the children’s housing and education.

“Until December 31, some 142,000 euros have been allocated for the minors – who are not even really minors, as [the real] minors [are] located in neighboring municipalities. Why do we have to support them?” one protester said.

Ioculano, who came to the protesters, said he did not support the opening of the center either, but that there is a legal obligation.

“I might agree with you. However there is a legal obligation that requires local authorities – and this applies to the whole of Italy – that, wherever is denoted as having minors present, that municipality must bear the costs. It’s not like the municipality is happy to do so,” he said. “I am not happy to pay this money. Do you understand? Nevertheless, it is a law obligation.”

The Red Cross decided to postpone the beginning of the construction work over the protest, the daily Il Giorannale reported. The protesters said they would gather again on Saturday.

The protesters also agreed to take their objections to Silvana Tizzano, the prefect of Imperia province, where the town is located. It is a small mountainous region on the coast bordering France. Cross-border tourism has traditionally been a major industry for Ventimiglia, so the choice of location for the refugee center in the tourist area further fueled the protests.

Protest organizers say they have collected over a thousand signatures for a petition calling on construction to be blocked, which represents a large portion of Ventimiglia’s population of 25,000.

The anti-refugee protest in Ventimiglia is far from being isolated. Italy is the primary destination for asylum-seekers trying to reach Europe from Libya, and has received over 90,000 this year alone. The cost of resettling the refugees is hurting the already-strained Italian economy, with many citizens accusing the EU of failing to redistribute the burden among all members of the EU.

The events in Ventimiglia are a “terrible tragedy” for both the refugees and the local population, Keith Best, former Vice Chair European Council on Refugees and Exiles, told RT.

“Nobody wants [the asylum seekers] in their backyard anymore, and it’s true throughout Europe. And we’ve seen a disgraceful derogation of any kind of humanitarian obligation to help people fleeing from most terrible spots in the world,” he said.

But Best added that he also has “enormous sympathy for the people of Ventimiglia. Nobody in this quiet, peaceful and touristic town wants to see thousands of foreigners descending upon them and, in their view, making their streets less safe.”

With Italy struggling to cope with the migrant influx, “the lack of food and clothing… clearly is going to lead people to desperate measures,” he added.

The EU is to blame for the situation with refugees, Best said, adding, “It’s only when there’s a real sense of solidarity in Europe that we’re going to see some of these problems resolved.”