The death of an African refugee woman in a camp north of Italy has sparked a mutiny as people protest harsh living conditions in the swarming facility.
The riot erupted on Tuesday at the reception center in Cona, near Venice, after fellow refugees reacted angrily to the death of a 25-year-old woman from the Ivory Coast, who reportedly died of natural causes a day earlier.
Local media said the refugees barricaded 25 staff members inside the facility after they cut off the electricity supply, started fires and blocked the exit.
Local police chief Angelo Sanna said the protesters were persuaded to open the gates shortly after midnight on Monday and let the staff leave. The electricity was also restored to the camp, where some 1,500 refugees have been placed in a facility originally meant for 15.
Cona’s Mayor Alberto Panfilio denied earlier media reports that the protest had been caused by a delay in ambulance arriving to treat the ill woman, saying the vehicle had arrived promptly. He also denied that the high number of refugees in the relatively small place played a role but urged an evacuation.
"This death is not directly linked to the high concentration (of people) but I hope it can be useful to change a situation that is no longer sustainable," Panfilio said, adding that calm had been restored at the center.
More than 136,000 people are housed in temporary refugee reception centers across Italy, most of them Africans who have come from the south through the Mediterranean. The center in Cona, a town with just 190 residents, opened in 2015 but saw a surge in arrivals last year.
Italy has reported over half a million refugee arrivals since a flow began in early 2015. More than a million also hit Europe’s eastern coasts on Greece in the same period, many fleeing conflicts in the Middle East. European governments first began to welcome the refugees as a humanitarian gesture but then revised rules and increased restrictions to stop the flow.