A car burnt during the riots in Rosarno.

Clashes between local residents and migrant workers shook the small town of Rosarno, southern Italy last week, leaving 50 people injured, including 18 police officers. One of our Observers went to the town to find out what was behind the violence.

The clashes broke out when two youths shot at African immigrants after they staged protests against their living conditions. Two were wounded. The attack sparked a first night of violence, during which the immigrants set fire to cars and bins. The following day, the local population responded by going on a "manhunt" for the immigrants in which a number of people were injured. That evening the Italian authorities made the decision to deploy 200 officers to the area as back up for the local forces.

The number of illegal immigrants employed to pick fruit in Italy is estimated at 4,000 each year.

Rosarno after the riots

Photos taken by Alessandro on Sat. 9, the day after the riots. Descriptions by Alessandro.

Local residents speaking to the press.

"In front of Italian TV reporters, the people of Rosarno declare they are not racist but that they cannot tolerate anymore ‘niggers’ in their town.”

"Locals leaning against a wall in front of an abandoned industrial estate, where the migrants live."

"Migrants live in abandoned places, like this one."

"The production of oranges is no longer profitable, meaning the number of fruit-picking jobs, formally occupied by illegal immigrants, has dwindled."

"A road in front of the abandoned industrial estate."

“Employers now give jobs to eastern European immigrants because they have papers”

Alessandro Siclari is a researcher from Messina (south Italy). He made a trip to Rosarno after the riots and spoke to the locals.

The clashes weren't directly related to racism like they at first seemed to be. It's a combination of the current economic situation and the putting in place of a new anti-immigration law which sparked the violence.

Firstly, because of the high number of cheap oranges being imported from North Africa this year, the price of a kilo of oranges in south Italy came down to just ten euro centimes. So the companies that produce orange and grapefruit juices decided to import the fruits from North Africa through the Gioia Tauro port. So there's less fruit picking work for immigrants.

Secondly, the new immigration law meant an increase in the number of checks for illegal workers, leaving bosses scared. For the collection of mandarins for example, (which are still profitable at 35 to 40 centimes per kilo), employers now give jobs to European immigrants - mainly Romanian and Ukrainian - because they have papers. Some of the illegal immigrants here haven't had work for two months. That's why they were protesting.

When I was in Rosarno on Saturday, I listened to the locals talking to the press. One of them shouted ‘They have to go! There's not even enough work for us, let alone the blacks!' I then tried to get in contact with an immigrant I know from Burkina Faso, Jean. I managed to reach him by phone, and he told me he was staying in a refuge centre because he was worried about what was going on outside. He'd come from Caserta to spend three weeks in Rosarno and make a bit of money. But after the clashes he wanted to go home. He also said that he wasn't that surprised by what had happened; that this kind of thing wasn't unheard of. The Africans are shot at and then they revolt, he told me. He doesn't know why it happens, but I think it's got something to do with the Ndrangheta [mafia from Calabria]."