Rome, Italy – Hundreds of Italian neo-fascists have taken to the streets of a suburb in Rome to protest against the arrival of a Roma family in the neighbourhood.
Tensions ran high as anti-fascist groups also gathered in the area on Wednesday, with the police separating the two factions to avoid clashes.
Some local residents applauded the arrival of left-wing groups, while others joined the neo-fascist protesters, launching violent, racist threats against the family.
People were heard screaming “You all have to burn” and “We don’t want you here”.
The protests started on May 6 when it was announced that a council house in the suburb of Casal Bruciato had been assigned to a Roma family.
The family of 14 members – 40-year-old Imir Omerovic, his wife Senada and their 12 children, the youngest of whom is three years old – was transferred to Casal Bruciato from La Barbuta, a local Roma camp that is being evacuated.
CasaPound, a neo-fascist organisation, mobilised the protests.
“We’ve been here with the citizens of Casal Bruciato because Roma families are being favoured while Italians are being left behind,” Mauro Antonini, a CasaPound representative, told Al Jazeera.
On Tuesday, Senada Omerovic was verbally attacked while entering the apartment with her youngest child. She had to be protected by the police, and in a video published by La Repubblica, a man can be heard shouting: “Whore, I’ll rape you.”
“We are staying, this is our house,” Imir Omerovic told journalists. “Today the children didn’t go to school because they were too afraid to go out. We have sent some of the children to my cousin’s because they were so scared.”
The mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, visited the family on Wednesday, but had to be escorted by police as protesters pushed and shoved to get to her, screaming “You’re disgusting,” and “You’re not our mayor.”
Among the anti-fascist protesters was Paolo Barros, a Rome city councillor from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.
“These people are Italian citizens and they have the right to housing. We cannot have first- and second-class Italians based on ethnicity,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Some Italian politicians are manipulating people’s anxieties to create propaganda. They are using the poorest of people for their own objectives. But we want to show that Rome does not accept this. Rome is a multicultural, open city.”
The attack is one in a string of similar events in recent months. On April 2, far-right protesters set fire to cars and bins in the suburb of Torre Maura when authorities announced that 70 Roma people would be transferred to a local reception centre.
A few days later, in Casal Bruciato, a Roma family was forced to leave their social housing after receiving threats from local residents and far-right groups.
According to human rights organisations, the number of hate crimes has tripled from 2017 to 2018, when the right-wing League party entered the government in coalition with the Five Star Movement.
In July last year, far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini sparked outrage by calling for a census of Roma people, saying he would “turn his words into action” and expel all non-Italian Roma from the country.