Ciao, Italia: Immigrant Edition.

Today’s NY Times has a vivid account of a string of race riots in southern Italy, shining “a bright light on a side of the country rarely seen in tourist itineraries.” (Though what an itinerary if they were!) After a Togolese immigrant was wounded in a pellet gun shooting, thousands of African immigrants took to the street to protest what they saw as a racially motivated attack.

La dolce vita?

On the surface, at least, we find the same catalysts – economic marginalization, racial discrimination, etc. – which precipitated the France riots in 2005.

April in Paris

But this being Italy, no story is set in stone till the mob has its say. Seems the links between immigration, cheap labor and organized crime are at the root of the Italy riots, casting la dolce vita in a rather unflattering light.

Human rights groups say that many African immigrants come to Italy with what appear to be legal offers of work in the agricultural sector in the south, often by paying middlemen more than $10,000 for the opportunity. When they arrive, the rights groups say, the immigrants often find that the agricultural outfits refuse to honor their end of the bargain, instead compelling the migrants to work under the table at wages far below the legal minimum wage. Often, the outfits that hire them have links to organized crime.

Actual members of an Italian crime syndicate.

“The workers live in “semi-slavery,” said Flavio Di Giacomo, [the spokesman for the International Organization for Migration in Italy]. “It’s shameful that this is happening in the heart of Italy.”

Meanwhile Roberto Saviano, the author of the organized crime book Gomorrah, called the immigrants courageous. “Immigrants are always braver than we are against the clans,” he said.

(For a brilliant, detailed, and highly readable account of the links between organized crime, human trafficking, and just about everything else sinister on the planet, check out Misha Glenny’s mob romp, McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld.)

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