Problems caused by Moroccan, Tunisian and Nigerian immigrants in Italy
An Italian council estate ringed with a steel wall to keep its residents inside will be closed today and its African immigrant residents dispersed despite fears that a planned amnesty for thousands of new arrivals will have consequences for countries across Europe.
The Serenissima - or Very Tranquil - estate, Italy's last ghetto, became a symbol of the way Italy mismanaged its immigrants after the local council in Padua built the wall and set up a checkpoint at the exit last year.
The measures were designed to stop the criminal activities of some of its mainly Moroccan, Tunisian and Nigerian residents. However, the estate's notoriety attracted even larger numbers of drug dealers and addicts.
Although the estate was constantly policed, gangs loitered on the streets outside. Earlier this summer, Princess Virginia von Furstenberg, an heiress of the Agnelli family, was arrested and cautioned after she stopped her Mercedes in the area to pick up three grams of cocaine.
One elderly woman who lives in a building next to the estate said all her windows and the plants outside her apartment had been smashed.
Flavio Zanonato, the mayor of Padua, said the demolition of the estate, to make way for an office block, was a major triumph for the city. "We are dismantling a ghetto and taking away a centre for drug dealing. I am doing what I think is right," he said.
Legal immigrants will be given other homes, but the bulk of the people on the estate do not have papers to stay in Italy. They said their eviction would merely send them elsewhere in northern Italy, or perhaps further afield into Northern Europe.
Uchi, a 28-year-old Nigerian, arrived in Italy four years ago. His route was overland to Libya and then by sea to the island of Lampedusa, which lies in Italian waters a few hundred miles from Africa.
In the last four years, almost 70,000 Africans have attempted the crossing, using small rafts or boats. More than a tenth drowned on the way. Twice so far this year, immigrants have survived only by clinging on to the enormous nets that trawl the Mediterranean for tuna.
When Uchi arrived at Lampedusa, he asked specifically to be taken to the ghetto at Padua, which he said was famous throughout Africa. "Then they simply let me go and told me to try to leave Italy. But they did not give me any permits to allow me to stay, so I cannot work," he said. "Crime would fall if they let us work," he said. "I have to push people's doorbells and ask for charity."
Italy's latest crime figures blamed "foreigners", who make up just four per cent of the population, for a third of all the offences committed in 2005.
The government said it was unable to process migrants and has proposed an amnesty which would issue them all with official papers. "The machinery of expulsion has not been working for some time," said Paolo Ferraro, the welfare minister.
"The mass of immigrants has in effect caused it to overheat and break down," he added.
However, the amnesty plan has been met with fierce opposition both within Italy and from the rest of Europe.
"A move to suddenly make 550,000 immigrants legal is very worrying," said one British diplomat.
I would call that an understatement.