Protesters raised barricades against the arrival of 12 women refugees who were due to be welcomed to a hostel in Gorino, a small town in central Italy with about 4,000 residents.
Around 150 demonstrators put up barriers preventing the bus carrying the women, one of whom is pregnant, from entering the town. They also went on a strike and refused to send children to school, holding a barbecue along the barricades.
In face of the public upheaval, local authorities have relocated the women in nearby towns. "This is not Italy," said Interior Minister Angelino Alfano condemning the episode. "What happened does not make Italy proud."
Alfano insisted that the event should not be seen as a mirror of society, pointing to more positive examples of hospitality to the refugees arriving in the country.
In Naples, a banner reading "Welcome refugees, Napoli is your home" was displayed in the city in solidarity with the arrival of 465 refugees rescued by the coastguards over the weekend.
But Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right Northern League party expressed solidarity with Gorino's residents. "I'm with Gorino's citizens," he wrote on his social media page. Local representatives of the Northern League party had an instrumental role in rallying support against the arrival of the refugees, using the hashtag #stopinvasion (#stopinvasione in Italian).
They rejected accusations of racism. "Good news from Gorino. The asylum seekers (CLANDESTINES) won't come here anymore. People from Gorino are not racist," a social media post from one of the protesters read.
Mario Morcone, head of the immigration department at the Ministry of Interior, said he is ashamed of what happened. "Italians who refuse to help women and children are dull, I am ashamed of being their compatriot," the Italian news agency reported him saying. "If they do not want to live in the same place as where we welcome refugees, they can go live in Hungary. We will be better off without them," he added.