A Nigerian migrant who was said to have been beaten up by “fascists” was actually assaulted by Roma from eastern Europe, according to police sources.
The victim of the assault claimed two individuals assaulted him in a Florence, Italy underpass, punching him in the mouth and the side of his head, newspaper Il Giornale reports.
“There were two people around 40 years old who gave me dirty looks while staring at me. I asked them why they were watching me, and they beat me. I bled. I was very afraid. I fell to the ground, and they ran away,” the 28-year-old Nigerian migrant male told Italian media.
The Nigerian works as a peddler of goods, selling small items such as lighters on the street near the underpass, and came to Italy by boat in 2014. He has a permanent residency permit according to reports.
Immediately after news of the attack was published, claims began to circulate online that the perpetrators were “fascists”. One user cited in the Il Giornale report claimed: “Two infamous fascists have beaten up that very nice [man] who always stops down there.”
On International Roma Day, Italian Populist Leader Says Roma Should ‘Work Harder’ and ‘Steal Less’ https://t.co/GVrF0Z1aIm
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) April 10, 2018
The social media response led to hundreds of supportive messages for the Nigerian and many in the neighbourhood offering support to the man.
Police, however, have contradicted the claims, saying that the attackers were two Roma men from eastern Europe, possibly Romania, and there was no fascist motive at all.
Criminality among the Roma community has been a significant issue in Italy for years, with illegal Roma squatter camps placed across the country. Former Italian interior minister and leader of the League Matteo Salvini had promised to clear out the estimated 148 illegal camps within five years.
Salvini is also known for his remarks toward Roma, including a statement made on the International Day of Roma, Sinti, and Caminanti last year in which he said: “If many of them worked more and stole less, if many of them sent their children to school instead of teaching them to steal, then it really would be something to celebrate”. Mr Salvini has been persistently criticised for his stance on Roma Gypsies, but regardless his party continues to poll strongly in Italy, frequently in first place.