Italy sends in army after riot erupts on council estate near Naples over new virus outbreak

Andrea Vogt
·2 min read
A resident living within the 'red zone' where 49 new coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Mongradone, southern Italy - ANSA
A resident living within the 'red zone' where 49 new coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Mongradone, southern Italy - ANSA

Italy sent soldiers and riot police as reinforcements on Friday to a council estate in the south of the country where a cluster of coronavirus cases among foreign farm workers has sparked tensions with locals. 

Violence flared between Italian residents and migrant workers on Thursday and Friday in the town of Mondragone, north of Naples, after five blocks of flats were locked down in an outbreak of 43 positive cases, mostly among Roma and Bulgarian field workers.

The trouble reportedly began after a group of Bulgarians attempted to force their way through a cordon put in place earlier this week, to protest not being able to return to work. 

Police persuaded them to return inside, but a few were later spotted heading out. A throng of angry resident Italians then gathered below the tower blocks shouting insults at the inhabitants, some of whom responded by throwing chairs and objects from their balconies.  

The affected council estate is home to some 300 Italians and 400 migrant workers from Eastern Europe, North Africa and South America. 

“We have put all the tower blocks in quarantine. Now they need to stay in their homes and respect the rules: for 15 days no-one enters or exits those buildings,” said Campania governor Vincenzo De Luca, who requested extra law enforcement from the interior ministry and threatened to lock down the whole town if screening identifies more than 100 cases.  

Several vehicles with Bulgarian plates were vandalized and a van was set alight with a molotov cocktail on Friday morning before the army unit arrived.  

Italian riot police stand guard at the estate  - ANSA
Italian riot police stand guard at the estate - ANSA

The mostly undocumented workers are part of an exploited sector of so-called “invisibles” who scrape by as off-the-books day laborers and seasonal farmhands, picking tomatoes and tending the buffalo that produce milk for mozzarella. 

They often live in unsanitary conditions, crammed into camps and dilapidated buildings around Castel Volturno and Mondragone, two seaside towns along a polluted strip of land north of Naples, largely controlled by the Camorra organized crime syndicate.

In a separate incident in Sicily, tensions were also running high after 28 rescued migrants tested positive for coronavirus after being rescued and brought ashore by the German NGO ship Sea-Watch 3, which has recently resumed operations.  

The migrants are now being kept isolated in a quarantined area of a ferry offshore, along with 250 others.  

After a 10-week lockdown and 34,600 deaths, Italy is returning to near-normalcy with deaths and hospitalisations in steady decline. But health officials say contagion is continuing, with small outbreaks being monitored from north to south. In Rome, 123 infections were linked to a hospital while in Bologna, 64 new cases were traced back to warehouse workers at a courier and logistics company.