Warning of 'dangerous acceleration' in attacks on immigrants in Italy
Murders, shootings and assaults coincide with Matteo Salvini’s anti-migration drive
Anti-racist groups in Italy have warned of a dangerous acceleration in attacks on immigrants after 12 shootings, two murders and 33 physical assaults were recorded in the two months since Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League party, entered government as interior minister.
Opposition politicians have accused Salvini of creating a climate of hate following the attacks, which have coincided with an anti-migration drive that has included closing Italian ports to NGO rescue boats and a vow to expel non-Italian Roma.
In one incident in July, a 13-month-old Roma girl was shot in the back with an airgun pellet. In at least two recent attacks on immigrants, the perpetrators have allegedly shouted Salvini’s name.
“Propaganda around anti-migrant policies has clearly contributed to creating a climate of hostility and to legitimising racist violence,” said Grazia Naletto, the manager of migration policies and racial discrimination of the Lunaria association, which publishes quarterly reports on the number of racially motivated attacks in Italy.
“We are facing a dangerous acceleration of episodes of violence against migrants,” Naletto said.
The group recorded nine attacks on immigrants between 1 June and 1 August 2017, with no shootings and no deaths – less than a third for same period in 2018.
On Sunday, a Moroccan man in Aprilia, 17 miles outside Rome, was the latest to be killed. He was followed and beaten to death by two young Italians who claimed he was a thief.
Three days earlier, in Vicenza, in the north-east of Italy, a 33-year-old factory worker from Cape Verde was wounded by a single gunshot. The suspect is a 40-year-old Italian who opened fire from a window in his home.
On Thursday night in Naples, Cissè Elhadji Diebel, 22, a street vendor from Senegal with a regular permit of stay, was wounded by a gunshot fired by two people on a scooter.
In Naples in June, Konate Bouyagui, a 22-year-old Malian with legal residency, was struck by a bullet fired by two Italian boys. Nine days earlier, in Caserta, north of Naples, two Malians, Daby and Sekou, were riddled with airgun pellets fired in a driveby shooting from a black Fiat Panda. The aggressors, both Italian, shouted Salvini’s name.
Two railway porters in Venice who in July beat an unlicensed African porter at the station, allegedly told him: “This is Salvini’s country.” A black Italian athlete, Daisy Osakue, suffered an eye injury when an egg was thrown at her in Turin.
Salvini has claimed “the wave of racism is simply an invention of the left” and in response to rising criticism on Sunday tweeted “many enemies, much honour” – a reference to a quote from Benito Mussolini on what was also the anniversary of the fascist dictator’s birth.
Salvini’s first move when he entered the interior ministry on 1 June was to say: “Good times are over for illegals.”
That same evening, in Rosarno, in the southern province of Reggio Calabria, a bullet struck the head of Soumalia Sacko, a 22-year-old Malian who was rummaging for metal sheets to repair his shack in one of the sprawling encampments that house the thousands of poorly paid immigrants who pick the region’s crops. The suspect is a middle-aged Italian man who was living near the encampment.
“Statements against migrants, almost always coupled with fake news, seem to have legitimised the use of violence against asylum seekers, who are often cast as parasites and invaders,” said Yvan Sagnet, a Cameroonian anti-racism activist and president of the No Cap association, which fights to improve the rights of immigrant workers. “I have never seen anything like this before in this country and I don’t see an easy way out.’’
“The extreme right has found a party through which it can speak,” said Carla Nespolo, president of the National Association of Italian Partisans, a group founded by members of the second world war Italian resistance. “Migrants in Italy have taken the place of Jews during fascism. This is one of the most far-right governments since the end of fascism.”
Mamadou Sall, the president of Florence’s Senegalese association and an Italian citizen who has lived in the country for more than 20 years, said he wanted to leave. “Every time you speak to an Italian you realise that there’s been a lot of impact on their mentality,” he said. “They seem to be closer to the world of fascism, speaking about the good things that fascism did during the war.”
Sall was on the frontline during protests against the Italian government after the death of Idy Diene, a street vendor from Senegal who was killed on 5 March, the day after the Italian elections. Diene was shot six times as he sold his wares on the Vespucci bridge in Florence.
His killer was Roberto Pirrone, a 65-year-old Italian who told police he had planned to kill himself owing to his dire financial situation. He said that when he was unable to muster the courage to do this he had shot the first random target he could find. A racist motive was ruled out, prompting fury among the city’s Senegalese population.
In a tragic twist, it was revealed that Diene, 54, was the cousin of Samb Modou, who was killed by Gianluca Casseri, a supporter of the fascist CasaPound party, when Casseri opened fire in two of Florence’s central markets in December 2011.
While the Italian government seems to ignore the problem, the police are working to bring the perpetrators to justice and several arrests have been made across Italy in recent weeks.
Two weeks ago, the Turin district attorney, Armando Spataro, unveiled measures to combat racially motivated crimes, targeting anyone who commits “crimes motivated by hatred and ethnic-religious discrimination”. The following day, he received insults and threats on social media from Salvini’s supporters.
“There is no value for people with a different skin colour,” said Sall. “When a black person is killed there is always an excuse. But when a foreigner kills an Italian they only focus on the fact that [the assailant] was foreign and the skin colour.”
Far-Right Italian Cabinet Minister Calls For Repealing Anti-Fascism Law
A top minister in Italy’s anti-establishment government has provoked condemnation from rights groups after calling for the repeal of an anti-fascist law that criminalizes inciting racial violence and hatred, as well as bans support for groups that carry out hate crimes.
Law No. 205, commonly called the Mancino Law, was passed in 1993 as a means of prosecuting racist violence and hate speech. Italy’s family minister Lorenzo Fontana claimed in a Facebook post on Friday that the law was being used by “globalists” to promote “anti-Italian racism,” and should be abolished.
Fontana is a member of the far-right Lega party, which formed a coalition government with the anti-establishment Five Star party following Italy’s elections earlier this year. While Five Star won more seats, Lega and its leader Matteo Salvini have become the more prominent force in Italian politics since the vote and set about shifting the government’s policies to the right.
Salvini, who earlier this week tweeted a notorious quote from Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, has gleaned international attention after leading a government crackdown on migrant boat arrivals from Africa as well as clashing with the European Union over refugee policy.
The Lega leader said on Friday that he supports scrapping the anti-fascism law, but that it’s not a priority and the government has no immediate plans to try and repeal it. Five Star leader Luigi di Maio stated that the law wasn’t up for debate.
Italy, much like Germany, has extensive anti-discrimination and anti-fascism legislation that goes back to the period after World War II. Under the Mancino law, Italians who commit a crime can receive harsher sentences if the motive is deemed to be based on hatred of ethnicity, religion, nationality or race. The country also bans fascist propaganda if it is intended to revive the Fascist party.
The Lega and Five Star have both opposed efforts in recent years to strengthen restrictions on fascist symbols and rhetoric, while at the same time rights groups have raised concern over growing extremism and racism in Italy.
The Mancino Law has also been used in the past to prosecute members of the Lega party who have incited hatred against Muslims and minorities. Deputy mayor of Treviso and Lega member Giancarlo Gentilini was fined 4,000 euro in 2009 after calling for “a revolution against those who want to open up mosques and Islamic centers” and said he didn’t want black people “teaching our children.”
While other far-right politicians backed Fontana’s proposal, Italy’s Jewish community leaders condemned the statement and emphasized that the law was a necessary bulwark against discrimination.
“Abolishing the Mancino Law entails removing incitement to racial hatred as a punishable offense. This means disarming the Judiciary in a historical phase where anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia are on the rise,” said Noemi Di Segni, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, in an interview with HuffPost Italia. “Far from annulling the Mancino Law, there is now an urgent need to strengthen the regulatory provisions against all forms of racism and anti-Semitism.”
Di Segni criticized Fontana’s effort as an attempt to downplay Italy’s past and a threat to the country’s principles of anti-fascism and tolerance.
“A democratic community has no future without a historical memory,” said Di Segni.
The head of Rome’s Jewish community, Ruth Dureghello, also condemned the proposal.
“Eighty years after the (Fascist) Racial Laws, it would be good to combat discrimination instead of continuously winking at neo-fascism,” said Dureghello, according to ANSA news agency.
There has been a wave of violence against migrants and minorities in Italy since the Lega and Five Star took office in May, including two murders and at least a dozen shootings. Last month, an assailant shot a 13-year-old Roma girl with a pellet gun, and in Naples on Thursday, a Senegalese fruit vendor was shot in the leg by two men on a moped.
Rights groups are concerned that the Lega is fomenting a climate of hate through its xenophobic and racist rhetoric. Salvini routinely describes migrants as criminals and rapists, and is calling for a census of the country’s Roma people in a move that has stirred memories of Italy’s fascist past.
Rifts widen in Italy as ‘racism’ of Salvini upsets Five Star Movement
Ruptures are starting to show in Italy’s populist coalition as anti-immigration moves by Matteo Salvini, interior minister and leader of the far-right League, unsettle senior politicians from his ally, the Five Star Movement (M5S), and the party’s core voters.
Voters from across the political spectrum flocked to the anti-establishment movement founded by TV comedian Beppe Grillo in 2010. They were attracted by its stance on corruption, but also by the party’s pledge to help small businesses, slash red tape and lift people out of poverty, and by its emphasis on the environment.
But two months into the M5S-League coalition government some have major doubts. Last week Roberto Fico, M5S MP and president of the chamber of deputies, spoke out against a controversial pact with Libya that sees migrants forcibly returned to war-riven north Africa.
On the night of 30 July, according to the International Organization for Migration, almost 350 people were taken back to Libya. Fico commented: “Libya is not a safe landing point. Human rights are not guaranteed, so migrants cannot be left there.”
He has also clashed with Salvini over his xenophobic rhetoric and blocking of Italian ports to rescue ships. “I don’t want to close the ports,” he said. “We need to talk about immigration with intelligence and heart.”
Other M5S politicians have come forward as attacks on immigrants have risen. There have been 12 shootings, two murders and 33 physical assaults in the two months since Salvini became interior minister. “All of us, starting from those in the political world, have the responsibility to create a barrier to these unacceptable, cowardly episodes,” M5S MP Vincenzo Spadafora said last Monday.
Discontent is also simmering among M5S voters, particularly in the party’s southern stronghold of Campania, where Fico and party leader Luigi Di Maio are from.
“I was against M5S collaborating with the League,” said Paolo Silletti of Caserta, near Naples, “mainly because I hate Salvini. For years he insulted people from the south. Many others I know who voted for M5S also do not like the coalition; the two parties don’t have many points in common.”
M5S supporters were also unhappy about a proposal last week by Lorenzo Fontana, the families minister from the League, to scrap the anti-fascist Mancino law, passed in 1993 to outlaw racist violence and hate speech. Di Maio was quick to point out, via Facebook, that this was not part of the coalition’s plan. Many responded with online comments lambasting the government. “Be quiet before many of us repent for having given you our vote, only to find homophobes and xenophobes in government,” said one.
Di Maio has been silent on immigration, referring to Fico’s stance as his “personal opinion”. Giuseppe Conte, the unknown professor M5S and the League agreed on as prime minister, has so far had little sway over the two party leaders.
Other M5S MPs are taking a neutral approach, arguing that the party must honour the immigration policy agreed in the coalition deal. This included plans to clamp down on migration across the Mediterranean, and to accelerate deportation of an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants.
“We need to implement what we wrote in the joint programme,” Laura Castelli, undersecretary for the economy ministry, told the Observer.
Piera Aiello, MP for the Sicilian city of Marsala, said that going back on the agreement could jeopardise other joint policies. “Rightly, we’re not for absolutism or just abandoning people,” she said. “But at the same time we can’t say ‘everyone’s welcome’, only to cast people aside like urchins. Yes, we need to act with humanity, but the responsibility needs to be shared across Europe.” Rino Marinello, an M5S senator also from Sicily, said Salvini’s initiatives were a result of mistakes by the previous leftwing government. “Immigration here has not been well managed – people come, but they have no opportunities to work or build a life,” he said. “Opening our ports while the rest of Europe shut theirs was a problem. Our priority should be developing a policy that improves lives for people in Africa.”
Immigration is a thorny topic, but unlikely to break the coalition in the short term. “There may be people who don’t agree with Salvini, but this is part of the game,” said Mauro Calise, a politics professor from Naples. “Both sides need each other and nobody is going to make a single issue enough of a reason to break anything. Moreover, Salvini’s policy [to reduce immigration] has been successful – he’s basically continuing what [predecessor] Marco Minniti did, the difference being that Salvini has been very good at communicating it.”
BBC News: Italy's populist coalition: What you should know
Financial Times: Italy's sailor-MP quits after tempest over absence
The Guardian: "Fake news" journalist rejected as Italian state broadcaster's president
The Guardian: Migrant's return to Libya by Italian boat could breach international law - UN
The New York Times: Star Athlet Is Injured in Egg Attack, and Italy Debates "a Racism Emergency"