A day-long protest by immigrants Monday on the Italian resort island of Sardinia paralyzed city traffic in the capital city of Cagliari, as Eritrean and Somali protesters sat or lay down in the streets preventing any flow of traffic.
“Cagliari is hostage to illegal immigrants,” said center-right local politician, Daniele Caruso. “Yet another street protest forces us to confront a public policy problem that can no longer be underrated.”
A group of some 100 young migrants began marching through the city protesting around noon Monday, and then occupied the city’s main square for nearly seven hours.
Meanwhile, a group of volunteers handed out water bottles to the protesters, escorted by police in riot gear. The protesters were part of the 661 migrants who were taken to the port of Cagliari after being rescued off the Libyan coast last month.
On Monday evening, after a lengthy mediation, police officials finally managed to convince the migrants to desist. The migrants were then transported on buses back to the Pirri hotel on the outskirts of Cagliari, which has been turned into a makeshift immigrant shelter and where the migrants have been residing for several weeks.
The migrants are demanding to leave the island, which is roughly the size of New Hampshire, and to be taken elsewhere, since the majority would like to be able to continue traveling north into Europe. Many have refused to participate in identification procedures for fear of not being able to leave Sardinia.
Local and national politicians are now speaking of a real threat to public order and a crisis situation in Sardinia, requiring immediate intervention.
The Leader of Italy’s Northern League, Matteo Salvini, did not mince words. “I am sick and tired of these immigrants,” he said. “They want to leave, so let’s weigh them and ship them back home.”
Daniele Caruso called for the prefect to restore public order and guarantee the security of citizens, accusing the migrants of “acting outside the rules” that require respect for citizens and full cooperation with officials.
“Cagliari is at the mercy of immigrants, or so-called refugees” Caruso added.
Over the past years, most African migrants moving north have sought to cross the strait of Sicily and land at the nearest Italian ports, such as the islands of Sicily, Pantelleria and Lampedusa, in between the African and Sicilian coasts.
Due to mounting pressure on infrastructure and services, however, the Italian government devised a scheme to multiply the ports of entry for rescued migrants, turning to other regions of southern Italy. Moving beyond the easily reachable ports, they began transporting rescued migrants elsewhere, such as Sardinia.
Last August, migrants in Cagliari protested delays in paperwork, demanding they be allowed to leave Sardinia, and several even began a hunger strike. A large number of Eritrean migrants called for the right to leave the island in order to join friends and relatives in other parts of Italy.
Many are blaming Sardinia’s current woes on the immigration policy of the center-left government of Matteo Renzi.
Salvatore Deidda, the regional spokesman for the Fratelli d’Italia group, denounced the migrant reception policy of the Renzi government, which he called “inhuman and bankrupt.”
The latest protest, Deidda said, “is proof that of what we have been saying for some time, namely that Sardinia is not a place for refugees and immigrants.”