Italy: Attack on homeless Indian labourer causes alarm

Rome, 2 Feb. (AKI) - A vicious attack by three local youths against a homeless Indian man in a small coastal town outside Rome has shocked the Indian community, charities and politicians in Italy.

Unemployed Indian labourer Navtej Singh Sidhu is in a critical condition in a Rome hospital with burns to 40 percent of his body after the youths doused him with petrol and paint and set him alight as he slept rough on a bench in Nettuno, south of Rome. The youths kicked, punched and insulted him before they set the 35-year-old on fire.

"It's a dangerous time for immigrants to be living in Italy, especially if you have a dark skin," one immigrant who has been resident in Italy for 10 years told Adnkronos International on condition of anonymity.

Staff from an association representing Indian workers and the Indian Embassy in Rome visited Sidhu in hospital on Monday.

After losing his job as a labourer, Sidhu reportedly had been unable to afford accommodation and had been sleeping on a bench at Nettuno railway station for several nights, reports said.

The head of Catholic charity Caritas' immigration office, Olivero Forte, told AKI the attack against Sidhu was "despicable". He said he feared the current economic and social climate would provoke more incidents against immigrants.

"Intolerence is growing towards the weakest in society, including homeless people, and immigrants often fall into this category," Forte stated.

He said that Caritas, the United Nations refugee agency and national non-governmental organisations such as ARCI are planning a major anti-racism campaign in the next few months to change attitudes towards immigrants in Italy.

"There are four million legal immigrants here. Indians have never created any problems," said Forte.

Rome's mayor Gianni Alemanno and many other Italian politicians expressed revulsion at the attack and vowed to take action to protect vulnerable people like Sidhu, who is originally from the northwestern state of Punjab.

"We will help him in every way and defend honest people," said Alemanno. " I await the results of the investigation, but would not exclude this from being a fresh incident of bullying by young people," said Alemanno.

Italy's centre-left opposition leader Walter Veltroni did not hesitate to define the attack as racist.

"Episodes of criminal intolerance such as this are the result of xenophobic propaganda and a climate of hatred and fear that has been created," he said.

Veltroni was referring to the hardline immigration policies of the current centre-right government and a series of attacks against immigrants in recent years.

Sidhu was barely able to give his name to ambulance workers before passing out in agony from severe burns to his legs, face and neck after the attack early on Sunday.

He will require plastic surgery and unless there are complications, will have to undergo several operations, according to doctors.

It is not known who called the ambulance. Investigators believe it could have been one of the three young men arrested on suspicion of attempted murder over the attack.

Italian media reports named the three as C.G., aged 20, F.S., aged 17, and B.F., aged 30. Following hours of interrogation by police, the youths confessed to attacking Sidhu after a night spent drinking heavily and taking drugs.

The youths are "from good families" and do not have previous criminal records. police said.

They claimed they didn't attack Sidhu because he was an immigrant but said they had sought out "a bum" to whom the could "teach a lesson" and "experience poweful emotions."

"We were looking for a down-and-out person, someone sleeping rough. Not necessarily a Romanian or a black person, just someone we could teach a lesson to," the youths were quoted as saying by La Stampa newspaper.

Clashes broke out on Sunday between members of the 15,000 strong local immigrant community who held a protest in Nettuno over the attack on Sidhu and a local far-right group who heckled the protesters, reportedly shouting: "Burn them all!"

January saw vigilante-style attacks against immigrants in Italy following several rapes allegedly perpetrated by immigrants. Last November, four youths beat up and set alight a homeless Italian man sleeping on a park bench in the northern city of Padova.

A 63-year-old Ghanaian immigrant sitting on a park bench in Milan was severely beaten last year by baseball-bat wielding thugs shouting: "Dirty nigger, you all have to get out of Italy!"

Earlier vigilante-style attacks have occurred in southern Italy, for example when a naval captain's wife was allegedly raped and murdered in Rome by a Romanian drifter in 2007. Raids were carried out on encampments across Italy and dozens of Romanians judged to be a threat to public security were deported after the incident.


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