Migrant workers attacked in EC

BELGIAN police are protecting Sikh farmworkers following a firebombing incident, while in Italy hundreds of migrant workers from Africa were escorted from a town in the Puglia region after attacks by groups of angry local people. In both cases, local authorities were intent on playing down the racist aspects of the attacks. Across Europe, however, attacks on migrant workers and refugees are rising dramatically. There were 54 racist murders in the European Community last year, most of them in Germany.

The attack on the Sikhs occurred in the Flemish town of Sint Truiden (population 37,000), where some 2,000 Sikhs work as fruit-pickers. A gang of local youths, including skinheads, threw petrol bombs at a house where four Sikhs were living.

There were no injuries, but the incident has sent a tremor of fear through Belgium's large immigrant community, fearful of a wave of copycat attacks. Three Belgian teenagers have allegedly admitted throwing the petrol bombs. One is a 19-year-old conscript; and the others are 16 and 17.

Sint Truiden's mayor, Jozef Cleeren, denied that the attack was racially motivated. He recently decided there were too many Sikhs in the town and had stopped registering them at the town hall. Three hundred Sikhs demonstrated in Sint Truiden to protest against the attack.

In Italy, 400 African migrant workers fled in fear from the town of Stornara, in the south-eastern Puglia region, after attacks by locals. After a night of violent clashes between townspeople and the Africans, the local police escorted 150 fruit-pickers on to a train for Naples.

Another 250 Africans who were picking tomatoes earlier in the summer also had to flee, according to Italian state television.

An estimated 10,000 African farmworkers, mainly from Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal, arrive in the south- eastern town of Foggia every year seeking seasonal work outdoors.

They are usually housed in unsanitary conditions and shunned by the local people. Unemployment and economic hardship in the region have caused friction between locals and migrants.

The violence in Stornara began when local people blamed foreigners for the death of an 82-year-old pensioner during a robbery at the weekend. He suffered a heart attack after being tied up.

The local police have no evidence linking the attack to foreign migrant workers but that did not stop the local community from jumping to conclusions and running them out of town.

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