Policeman In Italy Fatally Shoots African Migrant Who Wounded Him

The tragedy highlights the harsh conditions at camps for seasonal workers.

Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images
A seasonal shelter for migrants who work in the orange groves of Rosarno, a city in Italy’s Calabria region, on Jan. 11, 2010. A policeman killed a young migrant from Mali at a different camp on Wednesday.

A policeman shot and killed a Malian migrant worker at a camp in southern Italy on Wednesday after the migrant reportedly stabbed him, the ANSA news agency reports.

Seasonal migrant camps in southern Italy — which host many immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa — are notorious for their appalling living conditions and for the violence that periodically breaks out between migrants, locals and police.

The deadly confrontation in the San Ferdinando camp, which is located outside the Italian city of Rosarno, highlights the challenge of protecting migrants who live on the fringes of European society. San Ferdinando camp currently shelters approximately 500 immigrant workers who harvest fruit and vegetables.

On Wednesday morning, 27-year-old Sekine Traoré reportedly picked a fight with a migrant from Burkina Faso over a cigarette. When the other migrant refused to give him what was left of the cigarette, eyewitnesses say that Traoré pulled out a kitchen knife with a jagged edge and cut him on the arm.

That’s when someone in the camp called the police. “Six of them showed up,” said a witness who spoke with HuffPost Italy.

“The officers went to see Traoré, who refused to come out of his tent because he knew that they would arrest him. We tried to help the police officers, first when they tried to calm him down and hold him, but we couldn’t do much,” one person said. “Everything was over in a moment.”

Official police statements and the Palmi prosecutor’s office claim that Traoré attacked police officer Antonino Catalano with a kitchen knife. After wounding Catalano in the face, authorities say, Traoré attempted to attack him again.

However, eyewitnesses told HuffPost Italy that Traoré threw a large metal object at Catalano, hitting him in the face and causing a deep cut. “It’s not true that he had a knife when the police arrived,” witnesses said. “He had already used that knife to injure the guy he was fighting.”

At that point, witnesses said, Catalano aimed his gun at Traoré and fired, shooting him in the abdomen. The young migrant was taken to a hospital in the town of Polistena, where he died.

Don Roberto Meduri, a priest who works at San Ferdinando migrant camp, told HuffPost Italy that Traoré had been in several physical brawls at the camp in the past. Meduri said several young men in the camp were injured by the knife Traoré was holding when they tried to calm him down.

Catalano received five stitches for the cut on his face at a local hospital, and Italian police say the officer’s actions were justified. “The story we’re seeing here is one of legitimate self-defense by the officer,” stated the Palmi public prosecutor, Ottavio Sferlazza.

Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s anti-immigration Northern League party, released a brief statement about the incident on his Facebook page: “At the San Ferdinando immigrant camp (Reggio Calabria) an immigrant stabbed a police officer, who then shot the immigrant in self-defense. Unfortunately, the immigrant died of the bullet wound. My condolences to the officer, whom I hope will not encounter any additional difficulties: the league is with you.”

Other Italian politicians also expresses solidarity with the wounded officer and blamed Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi for allowing the migrant situation to worsen.

In the meantime, the general atmosphere at the camp is one of shock and bitterness. “We called the police to make sure that a little problem didn’t turn into a big problem, and even though there were six of them they couldn’t even stop and arrest one single person,” one witness said. “What will happen the next time we need them?”

A version of this story originally appeared on HuffPost Italy. It has been translated into English and modified for a U.S. audience.