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At the beginning of 2012, gunshots in downtown Rome shocked the Chinese community in Italy. On the evening of January 4, two robbers approached a Chinese couple and their 9-month-old daughter. The 31-year-old father and his daughter were shot dead and the mother was hospitalized.|
The news of this incident prompted a backlash among Chinese both at home and abroad, with some expressing concerns about what they perceive as the deteriorating safety of Chinese businesspeople in Italy.
On Sunday, Italy's state broadcaster announced that the current suspects were two North African emigrants who had criminal records. The discussion transferred away from Rome's poor security to problems of immigration and money laundering.
Italy's new interim government, led by President Mario Monti, was established a few months ago because of the European debt crisis. A series of policies by Monti have not only strengthened inspections and management on business taxation but also forced almost each Italian family to make some sacrifices.
Many Italians are already enraged at having to pay more taxes, as their salaries have shrunk and their business prospects are gloomy. Their rage will break out once it gets chance. In Italians' words, Chinese immigrants came carrying only a single suitcase. Several years later, they wore world famous brands and gold watches, and drove luxury cars.
Around 50,000 Chinese citizens live in Rome. Although they're a smaller community than many others, particularly Filipinos and Europeans, the Chinese play a significant role in the local economy. The Italians certainly want to know where this money comes from. They see their money as flowing into immigrants' pockets and anti-immigrant feeling is growing.
This kind of feeling often surges during economic downturns. Italian government and business circles are aware of Chinese businessmen's positive role in the local economy. Large-scale anti-Chinese sentiments or actions are not likely for now.
But Chinese people have to be wary of criminals, for whom money is all that matters. Rich Chinese make easy targets.
Rome, one of the centers of Chinese trade in Europe, is a popular spot for such robbers. The Vittorio neighborhood in central Rome contains over 800 Chinese trading companies. And because Chinese don't trust credit cards and cheques, it's almost all cash business. This makes it a feasting ground for muggers.
And thanks to the language barrier and an engrained mistrust of the police, Chinese immigrants very rarely call the policy after being robbed. This makes the criminals even cockier. Last year, there were five robberies in a single day in Vittorio all targeted at Chinese immigrants.
The bloodshed last week is obviously an important example of this disturbing trend. Chinese in Italy should start to take their personal safety more seriously, conduct community programs to increase awareness of security, and take basic measures to protect their personal property. For instance, they should travel in groups when carrying large amounts of cash, or late at night, as well as trying to switch to more credit-based businesses. If robbed, they shouldn't try to resist, because that significantly increases the risk of injury, and both individuals and the community should work more with the police.
Chinese are mourning their fallen compatriots and condemning violence, as well as calling on the Italian police to make the streets safer. But we also need to learn how to change ourselves.
The author is executive editor-in-chief of Europe China Times based in Italy.