THE solution to Europe's tension over immigration does not lie in the violence of southern Italy in the past week, or in the government's sharp and inflammatory response. The explosion of rioting in the Calabrian town of Rosarno has led to an ugly evacuation of immigrants, mainly African, that has been dubbed "ethnic cleansing".
No one questions the pressures on Italy from the flood of immigrants, many illegal. Italy, with Spain, bears the brunt of illegal traffic into the European Union.
Both countries have long coastlines, impossible to police, which face Africa, and in Italy's case, the east as well. Immigrants from Albania, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Africa line up to try their luck at penetrating the EU's borders.
Many succeed. That, at least, is the popular image of EU immigration, and it has strong roots in reality. If you fly over Europe at night, coming from Afghanistan, say, you pass hours looking down on darkness before finally being transfixed by the dense, orderly web of the lights of Europe's cities, the image of a pinnacle of development and affluence. Europe will continue to be a powerful lure for those in the poorer countries to its south and east. The growth in their populations and the stagnation of Europe's own will ensure that the pressure is not going to go away.
The Italian riots have been fuelled by accusations that immigrants, legal and otherwise, are taking jobs from locals. But the reality is murkier. Many workers have been courted by local producers to do jobs that Italians, at least in boom times, have not been keen on.
In a population of 60 million, there are about four million legal immigrants, but there are thought to be many more illegal ones. In the clash that sparked the two-day riots, local youths allegedly shot at two African fruit pickers with pellet guns. Violence spread across the town as cars were set alight. More than 1,000 workers, many from Ghana and Nigeria, were then taken by bus and train to emergency detention shelters.
The police said the evacuation was for the immigrants' protection, although it is not clear how many left willingly. Many townspeople applauded as the buses left.
The government and opposition are agreed on only one point: in blaming organised crime, which still has a strong foothold in the region, for many of the facets of the tension -- from encouraging the immigrants to move to Italy, to backing the sprawling camps in which many of them live, to (in unspecified ways) provoking the clashes. But Roberto Saviano, author of the bestselling 'Gomorrah' about crime gangs, said that immigrants were often more courageous in standing up to organised crime.
The Pope called for tolerance of immigrants, but Roberto Maroni, the Interior Minister, caused uproar among human rights groups with his statement that the Rosarno tension was "the fruit of the wrong kind of tolerance". That is consistent with the long opposition to immigration from right-of-centre parties. But they will be criticised too if the tension continues to flare, and if the response is as ugly as that of the past few days. (© The Times, London)