Rome removes refugees from besieged centre

Officers cuffed local politicians from both the left and right, including regional councilor Luca Gramazio from Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, accused of serving as a go-between for corrupt businessmen and the mob (AFP Photo/Alberto Pizzoli) (AFP/File)

Rome (AFP) - Authorities in Rome have removed the last remaining asylum-seekers from a centre that was repeatedly attacked by local residents in incidents that were seen as a benchmark of rising xenophobia.

Around 40 immigrants had remained in the Tor Sapienza residence on the rundown eastern outskirts of Rome until earlier this week.

But after garbage containers outside the centre were set on fire, it was decided the occupants should be moved for their own safety.

Francesca Danese, the city councillor with responsibility for social policies, acknowledged the move could be seen as giving in to mob rule.

"It's a defeat for me and for all of Rome," Danese said.

The building had been under police guard for four months, after rioting erupted around it in November and it became a focus for far-right activists from outside the district.

At the time, many local residents claimed asylum-seekers were getting special treatment, and along with other immigrants squatting in the neighbourhood were responsible for a rise in crime.

All Italian cities have had to cope with sharp increases in the number of asylum-seekers and other migrants amid the record number of people arriving on Italy's southern shores by boat from North Africa.

An unprecedented 170,000 immigrants landed in 2014, and arrivals in the first ten weeks of 2015 are up 60 percent on last year's figures.

The record flow has been linked to conflicts in Syria and elsewhere that have displaced people on a scale not seen since the end of World War II.

The chaos in Libya has also contributed to the crisis by making it easier for people smugglers to use the troubled country as a departure point for Italy.