An ugly anti-immigrant election campaign has brought issues around race and migration to the surface. Can Italy make peace with its diverse future?by Darren Loucaides / March 2, 2018 / Leave a comment
As Italy prepares to go to the polls this Sunday, its top issue is undoubtedly immigration. The increasingly ugly campaign has seen comeback kid Silvio Berlusconi (aged 81) promise to deport 600,000 so-called “illegal immigrants.”
His centre-right Forza Italia has allied itself with Lega. Formerly Lega Nord, the party once wanted north Italy to be a separate country, and its candidates have warned that the “white race” is in danger.
Rounding off the coalition that could lead the next government are the far-right Brothers of Italy, whose leader blamed the recent shooting of six Africans by a neo-Nazi in the small town of Macerata on “uncontrolled immigration.”
Given how much Italy has borne Europe’s brunt of the refugee crisis, it’s perhaps no surprise that immigration has become such a hot topic. But does the apparent hard-right shift prove that Italy is xenophobic?
“I wouldn’t say that Italy is a racist country,” says Antonella Napolitano, communications manager for Civil Liberties in the Digital Age, an organisation responsible for resources like the website OpenMigration.
“Definitely in some respects, there is a latent racism. And I do think that we never properly addressed the aftermath of fascism,” she says. “But I think Italy is a welcoming country.”
Civil organisations, mayors like Leoluca Orlando in Palermo, who has said that Italy’s mayors must become “a megaphone” for refugees, and thousands of ordinary Italians who volunteered during the refugee crisis appear to be proof of this.
On paper, Italy’s response to the refugee crisis has certainly been one of welcome compared to stereotypically more tolerant countries like the UK—which has taken a fraction of its fair share.
And yet in a few weeks of campaigning, the Italian right has managed to make immigration a burning issue again. Napolitano believes that this is a result of gross exaggeration and misinformation.
“The numbers of arrivals were of course significant, but nothing to justify words [that were used] like ‘invasion’,” she says.
At the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015, a million people arrived in Europe, a continent of over 700 million. Compared to Lebanon, whose population of four million absorbed 1.5 million arrivals, this starts to look like small fry. And while studies have…