Salvini shifts Italy’s security focus from mafia to immigration

The cost of diverting police and related resources:

Organised crime increasingly being forgotten in favour of anti-migrant efforts, say observers

In recent decades, the ruthless Casalesi clan of the Camorra mafia has earned billions of euros by burying more than 150,000 cubic metres of toxic waste in the countryside north of Naples.

So last Thursday night, when 90 carabinieri paramilitary police officers surrounded several apartment buildings in Caserta, the provincial capital, many residents thought an anti-mafia blitz was under way. The targets were in fact immigrants, under scrutiny for sanitary inspections of their homes.

It is part of a trend since Matteo Salvini of the far-right League became interior minister in June 2018. Senator Pietro Grasso, a member of the national anti-mafia commission and former prosecutor responsible for the 2006 arrest of the Sicilian mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano, said: “Unfortunately, the Italian government […] is prioritising immigration, making people believe it is an emergency, rather than fighting the real problems, such as the mafia. Meanwhile, the bosses are getting richer and richer.”

On Sunday, Salvini announced the interior ministry would review spending on police protection for men and women under threat from the mafia, declaring “some people have been under police escort for too long”.

In Catania, the eastern Sicilian stronghold of the powerful Santapaola clan, prosecutors are investigating NGO rescue boats, one of which was ordered to be seized in November after fears that discarded clothes worn by people arriving from Libya could have been contaminated with HIV.

In Riace, part of Reggio Calabria, from where the feared ‘Ndrangheta is thought to control much of Europe’s cocaine trade, Mimmo Lucano, an anti-mafia mayor who revitalised his community by welcoming asylum seekers, has been under investigation since October on suspicion of aiding illegal immigration. Lucano has had repeated death threats from mafiosi, who also poisoned two of his dogs.

In the past eight months, nearly 250 of Salvini’s tweets have addressed immigration, compared with 60 about organised crime.

Nicola Gratteri, one of Italy’s most respected anti-mafia prosecutors, said: “I’ve heard him [Salvini] talking about immigration a lot. Haven’t heard him talking about the mafia yet.” When Salvini has tweeted about organised crime, for example the arrests in December of 90 people in Europe and South America accused of links to the ‘Ndrangheta, it has often concerned investigations that began before his tenure.

Arrivals to Italy have decreased by more than 80% since their peak. Thousands of police officers have conducted searches and inspections, and hundreds of people have been forcibly removed from welcome centres. Many of them are now homeless.

The evictions followed the approval of the “Salvini decree”, which removed humanitarian protections for those not eligible for refugee status and suspended the asylum application process for individuals considered “socially dangerous”.

Claudio Fava, the head of Sicily’s anti-mafia commission, whose father was murdered by the mafia in 1984, said: “The new security decree is a mirror of Salvini’s propaganda.

“The law addresses almost exclusively immigration, but a security decree should also be concerned with the mafia, which is clearly not a priority for Salvini. The only element in the decree that mentions the mafia regards the seizure of property.”

The Salvini decree established that villas confiscated from mafiosi would be auctioned off publicly after a certain time. Experts have questioned this, citing the likelihood that properties could be purchased by citizens acting as stand-ins for mafia bosses.

It feels as though the Italian mafias no longer make headlines, but others do. The interior ministry has carried out a ferocious campaign against what Salvini has described as a worse menace – the mysterious Nigerian mafia. In recent months, magistrates have arrested numerous individuals within the Nigerian community on suspicion of belonging to mafia clans.

Many investigators point out the Nigerian clans are subordinate to the Italian mafias, but Salvini and his supporters have been swift in justifying anti-immigration policies in the face of what they describe as an “invasion” of alleged African mafia bosses, which has risked aggravating racial prejudice.

The linking of migrant communities and organised crime has echoes of the past in Italy. Between 1880 and 1915, 4 million Italians reached the US, a small minority of whom were tied to the mafia, the largest criminal organisation in the world.

Mario Del Pero, a professor of international history at Sciences Po, said: “The anti-Italian prejudice, or rather ‘Italophobia’, was very strong in the United States. Its origins ranged from widespread hostility against the Catholic church to labelling Italians as criminals. Restrictive laws passed in 1921 and 1924 were written precisely to keep Italians out.”

In Caserta, the parallels are not lost. Moses, 34, who is from Nigeria and had his home searched by police, said: “[It is] the same sort of prejudice that migrants are facing in Italy more than 100 years later. History repeats itself, in this country more than anywhere else.”

In recent decades, the ruthless Casalesi clan of the Camorra mafia has earned billions of euros by burying more than 150,000 cubic metres of toxic waste in the countryside north of Naples.

So last Thursday night, when 90 carabinieri paramilitary police officers surrounded several apartment buildings in Caserta, the provincial capital, many residents thought an anti-mafia blitz was under way. The targets were in fact immigrants, under scrutiny for sanitary inspections of their homes.

It is part of a trend since Matteo Salvini of the far-right League became interior minister in June 2018. Senator Pietro Grasso, a member of the national anti-mafia commission and former prosecutor responsible for the 2006 arrest of the Sicilian mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano, said: “Unfortunately, the Italian government […] is prioritising immigration, making people believe it is an emergency, rather than fighting the real problems, such as the mafia. Meanwhile, the bosses are getting richer and richer.”

Source: Salvini shifts Italy’s security focus from mafia to immigration

Italian town saved by refugees fights government anti-immigration policy

Contrast between the local integration approach of a small Italian town in southern Italy and the “separation” approach of the current Italian government:

The alleyways of the Italian town of Riace are adorned with dozens of murals that show its long-standing relationship with migration.

But the country’s new populist government is threatening a project locals say successfully integrated hundreds of refugees and migrants into the town of just over 2,000 people.

Mayor Domenico Lucano, the project’s figurehead, was placed under house arrest earlier this month on charges of involvement in organising “marriages of convenience” for asylum seekers.

On Saturday Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, ordered all migrants in Riace be transferred to refugee centres next week.

Mr Salvini hailed the arrest as proof that the country’s new government was serious about ending the “immigration business”.

“What will all the do-gooders who want to fill Italy with immigrants say now?” Mr Salvini wrote on Twitter.

Mr Lucano, who was also accused of skipping a tender process in order to award a waste-management contract to cooperatives with ties to migrants, spearheaded Citta Futura – Future City – in 1999.

For almost two decades the project welcomed migrants to the sparsely populated Calabrian town in a bid to boost jobs and development. Known as the Riace model, the programme led to abandoned houses being restored and craft workshops being reopened, providing work for locals and foreigners alike.

The project was lauded by many as a model of integration.

But Riace’s efforts risk being dismantled by Mr Salvini as it runs out of money due to the interior ministry’s block on funds.

As a result, Riace’s local government accumulated a debt of €2 million (Dh8.49mn).

Before his arrest, Mr Lucano – known as Mimmo – could be found on the steps of the Donna Rosa restaurant in the town’s central square.

“They are destroying the area. We risk everything being closed down, even the kindergarten,” he said. “We might have continued even without European funds as an independent self-sustaining project, but two years has been too long and we have accumulated too many debts.”

On Saturday protesters gathered outside Mr Lucano’s window to demand the release of their mayor, chanting “keep strong, continue fighting”. The mayor could be seen raising a fist in support.

The political differences between Mr Salvini’s anti-immigration, hard-right Lega Nord and left-leaning Mr Lucano has compounded the widening rift.

Riace’s residents claim Mr Salvini is purposefully sabotaging the project. In response they gathered in a collective hunger strike since July and shut down all of the workshops tasked with creating embroidery items, ceramics, kites and glass crafts. The sign “I, too, support Riace” can be seen hanging in many shop windows.

“The funding blockage is like having suffered a bereavement,” said grocery shop owner Mimma. “The migrants have taught us to live. When new ones arrive they feel immediately at home, and it is as if they have always lived here with us.”

Because of its location Italy is a gateway into northern Europe – but the country’s weak economy and inadequate help from the European Union has aided Mr Salvini’s propaganda about a so-called “invasion” of the country.

Although current and past governments increased their popularity by tapping into a widespread fear of foreigners, Riace often put itself forward to host new arrivals, especially those most in need.

Mohammed is a 64-year-old Iraqi of Palestinian origin. He fled Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and today has both a home and a monthly stipend of €260.

This may end if Mr Salvini succeeds in relocating Riace’s guests to a camp.

Bayram, a 65-year-old Kurd, arrived in 1998 from Turkey. He helped reconstruct hillside terracing and is currently working as a carpenter and driver.

“Whoever is blocking this model should see how Riace was twenty years ago,” says 29-year-old Antonio, who works as an assistant in Bayram’s carpentry shop.

“There was absolutely nothing and the only event was the annual patron saint festival. Young people were forced to emigrate, which I will probably have to do next year,” he says, sitting nervously amid other protesters.

Next year Mr Lucano’s second and last term will end. Meanwhile Mr Salvini is rallying to win local elections in the country’s south, despite his northern secessionist movement’s hostility towards them.

“In the past we were the ones who left for the cities in the north of Italy or for Australia, but now there are new people coming here, the new migrants,” says Raffaele, a local farmer who sells home-grown fruit.

Far from Italy’s growing isolationism, residents of Riace hope they can overturn Mr Salvini’s decision to relocate their guests. But the future remains unclear.

And as the children of immigrants chase each other on Riace’s football pitch, shouting at each other in the Calabrian dialect, they are oblivious to the fact they could soon lose everything their parents risked their lives for – and so are their Italian peers who, amid the south’s interminable afternoons, have, at last, found someone to play football with.

Source: Italian town saved by refugees fights government anti-immigration policy

France tells Italy to stop ‘posturing’ on immigration and find a solution

All governments posture to a certain extent. The question lies more how they posture and for what purpose and in this case, the French critique is correct:
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe urged far-right Italian leader Matteo Salvini on Monday to drop his “posturing” on immigration and help find a European response to the issue.

Salvini, Italy’s powerful interior minister and deputy premier, has singled out French President Emmanuel Macron for criticism in recent weeks, as well as other EU leaders he considers too soft on immigration.

Philippe promised to be “direct” in his conversation with the 45-year-old Italian, head of the far-right League party, over dinner on Monday night in the French city of Lyon where the two men, along with ministers from Britain, Germany, Spain, Poland and Morocco, met for talks on immigration.

“I rarely use the same words or the same vocabulary (as Salvini) but that doesn’t stop me being direct as well. I hope we’ll have a frank and direct exchange,” Philippe said.

“Beyond the posturing, the issue of immigration cannot be solved with a national response. It requires coordination. It’s a complex issue of common interest.

“I think you have to tackle it with conviction, with respect for national interests, but also with the desire to build a common position that is the only way to find a solution.”

Philippe’s statement came amid open conflict between the new populist Italian government, led by Salvini and the head of the Five Star movement, Luigi Di Maio, and Macron’s centrist administration in Paris.

Last week, an aide to the French president accused Salvini of “living off the migrant crisis” and blocking attempts to forge a common EU migration policy.

Leaving the dinner, Salvini made no attempt to disguise his differences with the Paris government — just hours after meeting French far-right leader Marine Le Pen in Rome, whom Macron defeated in last year’s presidential election.

“I had the pleasure of seeing Marine Le Pen this morning and talking with her about Europe, the future of young people, trade and work,” he said.

“I need to work with everyone, but I feel closer to the views of Marine Le Pen,” he said.

The talks in Lyon were an attempt to bridge differences between hardline anti-immigration EU member states such as Poland and Italy and others like France and Germany that are in favour of accepting refugees.

The gathering, which continues for a second day on Tuesday focused on efforts to combat terrorism, precedes a larger meeting of European interior ministers in Luxembourg on Friday.

Morocco’s interior minister, Abdelouafi Laftit, was also invited to the talks amid rising concern in Europe about the increasing number of migrants heading to Spanish territory via Morocco.

Spain has become the biggest port of entry for illegal migration into Europe.

The issue of returning Moroccan migrants to their home country, particularly thousands of unaccompanied minors in Spain and France, was discussed on Monday night.

“It’s in the process of being resolved,” Laftit told reporters.

Italy to narrow asylum rights in clampdown on immigration

Will have to see how far the final bill goes and the degree to which it may be found to be unconstitutional:

Italy’s populist government on Monday escalated its clampdown on irregular immigration with a decree aimed at slashing the number of people awarded asylum and doubling the time irregular migrants can be detained.

The legislation promoted by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who leads the far-right League party, comes as boat arrivals plummet and the minister refuses to allow charity ships carrying rescued migrants to dock in Italy’s ports.

“This is a step toward making Italy safer,” Salvini tweeted.

The League, which took power in June in coalition with the 5-Star Movement, has promised to deport hundreds of thousands of irregular migrants. Already, the move to refuse to let rescue boats dock has proven popular, doubling opinion poll support for the League since the election in March to more than 30 percent.

The Salvini Decree aims to limit the use of a form of international protection that has been widely used in recent years but is not strictly tied to political persecution or war.

“Humanitarian” asylum was given to more than 20,000 people last year, or 25 percent of those who sought asylum, against the 16 percent of asylum seekers awarded one of the other two forms of international protection.

It is given to migrants who are deemed to have “serious reasons” to flee their home country – a category that has often included homosexuals fleeing harsh anti-gay laws in Africa.

The decree limits humanitarian protection to victims of domestic violence, trafficking, work exploitation and natural disasters, to those needing urgent medical care, and to people who carry out “particularly valuable civic acts”, Salvini said.

“Humanitarian protection was supposed to be used sparingly,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told reporters. “In Italy, there has been an indiscriminate reception (of migrants) and the rules helped support this.”


Other immigration measures include extending to 180 days from 90 the time an irregular migrant can be detained before being freed, to give the state more time to complete the deportation procedure.

The decree would also widen the range of criminal offences that trigger the stripping of asylum privileges applied for or already granted.

Such a move could fall foul of the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention, which is intended to protect all refugees, whether formally recognized or not, from being forcibly returned, except where they are a danger to public safety or national security.

Before the government approved the draft decree, a source in President Sergio Mattarella’s office had said parts of it might be unconstitutional – which could open the way for Mattarella to block it

The new immigration guidelines were packaged together with new security rules in an emergency decree, which has 60 days to secure parliamentary approval. Salvini said parliament was likely to make changes.

The security measures include heightened controls on those who rent trucks, in response to a series of attacks in Europe aimed at causing mass casualties. It also foresees stripping naturalized foreigners who are convicted on terrorism charges of their Italian citizenship.

The head of the Italian Catholic bishops’ conference, Nunzio Galantino, on Sunday criticized the decision to link immigration and security in the same piece of legislation, saying:

“We cannot consider the immigrant’s condition to be automatically that of a criminal.”

Source: Italy to narrow asylum rights in clampdown on immigration

‘If they attack me, they attack other people’: Italy’s first black cabinet minister stands trial against populists she deemed ‘racist’

Court case and political debate to watch:

In 2013, bananas were hurled at Italy’s first black cabinet minister, Cécile Kyenge. The same year, a local councilor for the Northern League, a regionalist party, said she should be raped, and a senator for the same party likened her to an orangutan.

It was once easier for Kyenge, an eye surgeon who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to brush off these attacks. During her speech in the seaside town of Cervia, she pretended not to notice the fruit flying toward her, later tweeting, “With so many people dying of hunger, wasting food like this is so sad.”

The Northern League used to be a minor faction netting about 5 to 10 percent of the national vote. In 2014, Kyenge gave an off-the-cuff assessment at an annual social-democratic political event in the northern city of Parma, calling the party “racist.”

Now, that party, rebranded simply as the League, is in power, governing in a populist coalition after winning nearly 18 percent of the vote in March. Its leader, Matteo Salvini, is Italy’s interior minister and deputy prime minister, working to make good on his nativist promises.

Not lost in Salvini’s portfolio is his long-standing effort to obtain a legal judgment against Kyenge for criticizing his party. Kyenge, who is now a member of the European Parliament, said in an interview this week with The Washington Post that she is happy to defend herself in court. She chose to give up the enhanced protection for freedom of expression enjoyed by lawmakers in Brussels in order to stand trial, she said.

“If they attack me, they attack many other people,” she said. “It’s important for me to be there, and to make sure that the court doesn’t accept these accusations, not just for me but for all people who stand up against racism in Italy.”

Kyenge said there is a simple reason she is targeted by the League: “They want me to shut up.”

“I’m a symbol in Italy,” she said. “I’m a symbol for migration, for diversity.”

The League maintains that its opposition to immigration, put on vivid display last month when Salvini refused to allow 177 migrants to disembark from a coast guard vessel at a Sicilian port, is not racist.

After two unsuccessful attempts to open a case against her, Salvini convinced a judge in the northern city of Piacenza this year to order Kyenge to stand trial for libel. The proceedings began last week and will yield a judgment by 2021. If she loses, the former minister for integration could be fined. Part of the judge’s reasoning, according to Italian news agency ANSA, was that the former cabinet minister had implicitly linked the League to Nazis, maligning not just the party name but its members.

Italy, like many European countries, doesn’t collect data on race and ethnicity, though it uses proxies of citizenship and place of birth that indicate that native Italians remain the overwhelming majority.

Still, Italy has been on the front lines of some of the migration pressures buffeting Europe and elevating far-right parties over the last several years. There were 370,000 immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa living in Italy as of 2017, according to Pew.

The postwar taboo surrounding race, a response to Fascist-era laws discriminating against Jews and other groups, doesn’t make race a nonissue, Kyenge said. Rather, she argued, it makes racial prejudice harder to root out.

“I think that racism has a strong place in many of the developments we are seeing now in Italy,” she said. “The racial resentment is the only political agenda of the right wing. They have nothing to talk about if … they weren’t afraid. Because they don’t have any suggestions when it comes to the economy or the international role of Italy.”

Kyenge said she has seen racist attitudes take increasing hold with the passing of the generation that experienced the racial laws promulgated between 1938 and 1943.

“It’s already forgotten by the younger generation,” she said.

Racial tensions have also been exacerbated by the country’s ongoing financial turmoil, she said, as politicians blame social changes for their own failure to stimulate growth and get public debt under control.

But she said she remained “proud” to be Italian.

Kyenge, 54, was born in the mining town of Kambove. She was 19 when she moved to Italy in 1983 to continue her studies. She worked as a maid to support herself while attending the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Rome and became a naturalized citizen in the ’90s, as well as a certified doctor. Married to an Italian engineer, she has two daughters.

Her political work began in the early 2000s, when she founded an intercultural group called DAWA, Swahili for “medicine,” to smooth tensions associated with African immigration to Italy. She first ran for local office in 2004 and entered the Italian Parliament representing the center-left Democratic Party in 2013. That year, she was named minister of integration by Prime Minister Enrico Letta. The day she entered government, Kyenge said, she began receiving racist attacks.

Now, Kyenge said she is thinking of leaving her post in the European Parliament to pursue legal advocacy related to racial discrimination.

“If I can do this for myself, I can do this for others,” she said. “Racism is a crime. Racism must be erased.”

Source: ‘If they attack me, they attack other people’: Italy’s first black cabinet minister stands trial against populists she deemed ‘racist’

Italian Catholic priests go to war with Salvini over immigration


Gianfranco Formenton, a priest in Italy’s central Umbria region who has long preached against racism and in support of migrants, knows what it is like to clash with Matteo Salvini, the recently installed interior minister and leader of the far-right League party.

In response to the party’s xenophobic rhetoric in 2015 – the year more than a million migrants arrived in Europe and 150,000 landed on Italy’s southern shores – he put a sign up on the door of his church in San Martino di Trignano, a hamlet of the town of Spoleto, saying: “Racists are forbidden from entering. Go home!”

He immediately bore the wrath of Salvini, who wrote on Twitter: “Perhaps the priest prefers smugglers, slaveholders and terrorists? Pity Spoleto and this church if this man [calls himself] a priest.”

Fr Formenton is also believed to have been the target of intimidation by far-right sympathisers when his rectory and home were ransacked a few days after Luca Traini, a failed League candidate in a local ballot, injured six Africans in a shooting in the town of Macerata in early February.

As the Democratic party, the biggest left-wing force in Italy, appears cowed in the face of Salvini’s vitriolic immigration stance, fearing it will lose support, the interior minister’s strongest opponents are priests such as Formenton.

But they are struggling to convince parishioners to welcome migrants, amid mounting adulation of Salvini, a Catholic who reportedly attends mass.

“We have a population that wants blessings from the church, processions and religious rites, but every time Pope Francis recalls migrants or the poor, they no longer listen,” Formenton told the Guardian.

“There is an evil force of racism, and Salvini has contributed to this. He’s been a magician in cultivating hate and manipulating anger. People of all ages have become racist because of the climate we’re living in.”

Knowing that many of his backers are devout Catholics, Salvini has exploited religion to galvanise support. The 45-year-old once again brandished a rosary and swore on the gospel to be “loyal to his people” while addressing thousands of ecstatic voters at the League’s annual rally in Pontida, a town in the northern Lombardy region, last Sunday. His speech, during which he pledged to create a European-wide alliance against “mass immigration”, came a few days after Mario Delpini, the Archbishop of Milan, pleaded for more humanity among Christians.

“Can they go to mass each Sunday and ignore the drama that is happening in front of their eyes?” said Delpini.

In the few days since Salvini’s speech, more than 200 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean.

Pope Francis also spoke out after Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister, blocked the Aquarius, a rescue ship with more than 600 people on board, from docking in Italy in June. “I encourage those who bring them aid and hope that the international community will act in a united and efficient fashion to prevent the causes of forced migration,” the pontiff said.

At the same time, Salvini has been nurturing a relationship with US Cardinal Richard Burke, a fierce critic of Pope Francis and supporter of Donald Trump, as he strives to build consensus from within the church.

Cosimo Scordato, a priest at Saint Francesco church in Ballarò, a neighbourhood of Palermo and home to many migrants recently arrived in Sicily, compared Salvini’s use of religious imagery to that deployed by Mafia bosses.

“Holding a rosary in front of thousands of supporters reminds me of Mafia bosses holding the Bible,” Fr Scordato, who has been subjected to intimidation by the Mafia, told the Guardian.

“Mobsters believe themselves to be sort-of spokesmen of Christian values, they feel protected by the church and want to show people they have God on their side.”

Scordato said he recently wrote a letter to Salvini encouraging him to see migrants as an opportunity in a country with a low birth rate and ageing population. He got no reply.

Fr Enzo Volpe, a Salesian priest in Palermo, said Christians have “forgotten about the Good Samaritan, who healed and took care of the poor”.

“Young Italians are moving to the US and England in search of work and opportunities,” he added. “What if these countries had stopped Italians at the border like Italy is doing with Africans? What’s the difference? Is it because Africans are black?”

Fr Luigi Ciotti, one of the most popular priests in Italy, organised a protest this weekend, which invites people to wear a red T-shirt – the same colour worn by three-year-old Syrian Aylan Kurdi when his drowned body washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015.

“Red also means to stop,” he said. “And we need to stop now, stop and reflect and look inside ourselves. We need to question our hearts and conscience: what are we becoming?”

Earlier this week Fr Alex Zanotelli, a member of the Comboni missionaries in Verona, urged journalists to report on the tragedies in Africa and raise more awareness among Italians about the plight of migrants, who are now perceived by many as “parasites” and “invaders”.

“If Italians don’t know what’s going on in Africa, they cannot understand why so many people are fleeing their lands and risking their lives,” he said.

But with the Democratic party failing to voice a strong opposition, the onus rests on the priests to wrestle against Salvini.

“The party is divided and doesn’t know how to counteract Salvini, and on which issues,” said Mattia Diletti, a politics professor at Sapienza University in Rome. “Due to people being so connected to him and the immigration issue, there is a fear that [opposing him] could be damaging.”

Source: Italian Catholic priests go to war with Salvini over immigration

Italy’s first black senator: my election shows far right is not anti-immigration – The Guardian

Ethnicity doesn’t necessary determine attitudes and perspectives. All groups have political diversity. But given the almost virulent anti-immigration messaging of the league, still surprising:

Italy’s first black senator has said his election for the League has proved that the far-right party, whose anti-immigrant rhetoric helped it to its best ever result on Sunday, has no problem with legal migration.

Campaigning under the party slogan “stop the invasion”, Toni Iwobi, a 62-year-old businessman originally from Nigeria, won his seat in Spirano, a small town in the Lombardy province of Bergamo, as the party took almost 18% of the vote nationwide.

“It’s an incredible honour for me to be Italy’s first black senator,” he told the Guardian.

He shared success in the region with his party colleague Attilio Fontana, the new governor of Lombardy, who at the start of the election campaign said Italy’s migrant influx threatened to wipe out “our white race”.

Iwobi, who owns an IT company, came to Italy in the late 1970s to study in Perugia. He later moved to Spirano, where he said he found the two loves of his life: his Italian wife and the League, then known as the Northern League. He became a councillor for the party in 1995.

Iwobi, a Catholic, argues that people should travel to Italy legally, just like he did. “I came on a student visa,” he said. “During that period over 40 years ago, coming here meant needing a visa. My party is fighting to restore legal immigration.”

The League was the strongest force within a three-party rightwing coalition that won most of the votes in the elections but fell short of the 40% majority required to govern. Horse-trading between parties is now under way to come up with a coalition government.

Iwobi has played an instrumental role in driving the League’s success, having helped to create some of the party’s key policies since being appointed by its leader, Matteo Salvini, as head of its immigration and security committee in 2015.

Party goals include making it easier to deport migrants deemed to be in the country illegally, refusing to accept those without documents arriving on charity rescue ships, and developing EU-wide economic aid projects with countries of origin to stop people coming.

“Salvini appointing me as the head of immigration shows that he knows exactly what he is doing,” he said.

Like Salvini, who has called for a “mass cleaning” to rid Italy of people in the country illegally, Iwobi takes aim at the 600,000 people who have landed on its southern shores within the last four years. The highest number of asylum requests in Italy come from Nigerians.

“Anybody running away from a country because of conflict and war has to be hosted,” said Iwobi. “But anybody leaving their country for the wrong reason and travelling to others in the wrong way has to be stopped. Immigration shouldn’t cost thousands of lives at sea and neither should it cost a cent to the host country,” he said.

“I want to stress that the League isn’t against immigration as such – nobody in this world can stop people moving, it’s in the human DNA. But we are against illegal immigration.”

Iwobi’s views contradict those of Cécile Kyenge, who became Italy’s first black minister in the chamber of deputies, the lower house of parliament, in 2013 and later served as integration minister in Enrico Letta’s government.

Kyenge suffered high-profile racist attacks during the brief tenure, including having bananas thrown at her and being likened to an orangutan by a League senator, Roberto Calderoli. Iwobi criticised her policies on migrant reception, saying at the time that “we should help them at home”. He also opposed a law drafted by Kyenge that would have granted an earlier path to citizenship for children born in Italy to foreign parents.

But he insisted the party was not racist and urged foreigners worried about the recent spate of racist attacks to “stay calm”.

“Our policies are intended to bring peace and order to the nation,” he said.

via Italy’s first black senator: my election shows far right is not anti-immigration | World news | The Guardian


The race for these seats in Italy’s parliament is likely to run through Toronto

Never been convinced of the merits of overseas constituencies as it raises issues of dual loyalties:

Mario Cortellucci is a real estate magnate in Vaughan, Ont., part the Italian cultural centre north of Toronto. He makes prosciutto and raw milk cheese and owns so many Norval Morrisseau originals he’s considering opening a museum dedicated to the late Indigenous artist. In his office, three of the paintings are on the floor, propped up against a wall among other hallmarks of a seemingly full life: a model of a suburb he’s been working to build for decades, photos of his children. But Mario Cortellucci is now, at 68, embarking on a second act. He, along with several other Italian-Canadians, is campaigning to enter the turbulent world of Italian politics in Rome.

Italy’s election next month will include races around the world, since Italy’s parliament has seats for politicians representing the diaspora in North America-Central America, Europe, South America and Asia-Africa-Oceania. Italian citizens living in the North and Central America region elect two members of the chamber of deputies (the lower house) and one for the senate. And while the number may seem insignificant among nearly 1,000 seats in both houses, tight elections in the past have seen some in Italy question why ex-pats in far-flung parts of the word should have any influence, said Western University political scientist Pietro Pirani.

A good amount of that influence comes from Canada, he said, particularly in Toronto. Canadian residents make up a quarter of the more than 400,000 constituents in the North American riding. Not everyone votes, however. And Toronto’s heavily-organized Italian community means local candidates have a better shot.

“If you want to be elected in North America, you have to come from Toronto,” Pirani said. “The largest and most organized community in North America is from Toronto.”

Not always, however. The outgoing senator is from Chicago. And the preceding one, Basilio Giordano, was from Montreal. Among the Canadians running for spots this year, there’s a sense that past politicians from the region were more concerned with the prestige and pomp than actually assisting Italians abroad.

“Just warm up the seat and they don’t do much,” Toronto-born senate candidate Tony D’Aversa said. “This isn’t about status, this is about doing your job.”

“A lot of them went to beautiful Rome and forgot about the people,” Cortellucci, a senate candidate with Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition, said on Wednesday. Cortellucci says he doesn’t need the salary – he’s donating it if he wins. Instead, he said, he’s running because he was asked at Italian community functions and feels an obligation to the Italian immigrants who he’s worked with through his over 50-year career in Canada.

But his affiliation with Berlusconi’s coalition somewhat muddles the message, since the group has seen much criticism for having staunchly anti-immigrant factions. For his part, Cortellucci says he’s more concerned with the politics of Italians in North and Central America. Plus, his campaign manager Giacomo Parisi said, “He comes from an immigration family.”

“Mr. Cortellucci is a strong believer in immigration.”

Italian-born parliamentarians are skeptical of their ex-pat colleagues.

Italian candidates abroad often are only nominally affiliated with their party, Pirani said, though it’s unavoidable that voters will usually be more familiar with party brand than the name.

“Their role is mostly narrowed to the ways they can improve the lives of Italians abroad,” he said.

Toronto-born Francesca La Marca, with Italy’s Democratic party, has served as one of two North American representatives in the chamber of deputies since 2013. She’s running again in the March election and fully denies the idea that the five-year term was nothing more than a pleasant Roman sojourn. She said she encountered suspicion and scepticism from her Italian-born colleagues and even some of her younger constituents who emigrated more recently from Italy.

It took spending 70 percent of her time in Rome rather than North America, showing up to votes and introducing a bill to earn respect, she said, to the point that colleagues in the lower house began to consider her as the “Canadian ambassador” – turning their heads in her direction whenever debate landed on Canada, or Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“It would be easy to say you get a nice fat paycheque and you’re always travelling around,” she said. But in reality she has to pay out of pocket for hotels and meals on trips around her riding, spanning from Panama to Canada.

“Again,” she said, “I’m not complaining.”

Source: The race for these seats in Italy’s parliament is likely to run through Toronto

Pope gets political in Italy’s debate on citizenship for immigrants

Not totally surprising:

While in the United States, the concept that the Vatican might influence public policy is outrageous, in Italy, the relationship between politics and the Catholic Church is like a well-made cappuccino: The espresso and milk foam may seem separated at first, but once you drink it, they blend into one.

Popes theoretically handed in their temporal power almost 150 years ago, but their voice and opinions still hold considerable weight in public discourse, which, in Italy as well as in many parts of the world these days, is centered around the immigrant crisis.

In the past, Pope Francis has been hesitant, if not downright opposed, to using his hefty popularity to intervene directly in matters of Italian public policy. But while the pope remained quiet as Italy’s parliament passed a law on de facto-couples, which critics say opened the road towards gay marriage, he was vocal on a recently proposed law concerning citizenship to the children of long-term immigrants.

The legislation is based on the concept of ius soli, which establishes citizenship depending on where you are born and not ius sanguinis, requiring a blood lineage, and would offer citizenship to the children of immigrants born in Italy who have completed at least five years in the Italian school system.

Under Italy’s current ius sanguinis system, it’s difficult and somewhat rare for the children of immigrants to the country to acquire citizenship. Under a ius soli standard, it would become much easier.

The country’s senate is currently at a standstill on the law, with opposing parties entrenched in a battle where no political blows are spared.

At the weekly general audience Sep. 27, Francis extended his arms wide toward St. Peter’s square and called faithful to welcome migrants and refugees.

“Just like this,” the pope said, “arms wide open, ready for a sincere, affectionate, enveloping embrace.” He then praised the work done by the civil organizations involved in collecting signatures in order to push the ius soli legislation forward.

This wasn’t the first, nor most adamant time the pope publicly expressed his support for the legislation, causing distress and outrage on the part of those who strongly oppose it. Matteo Salvini, leader of the populist right-wing party Northern League tweeted that if the pope “wishes to apply the law in his State, the Vatican, he can go ahead. But as a Catholic, I don’t believe Italy can welcome and sustain the entire world. To God what is of God and to Caesar what is of Caesar. Amen,” to which he added his staple hashtag ‘stoptheinvasion.’

The pope had used the same quote from the Gospel in an interview with sociologist Dominique Wolton, where he stressed how “the lay state is a healthy thing,” but Francis’s recent statements on the ius soli show that when the topic is close to his heart, he is not willing to back down.

…A chorus of priests, bishops and cardinals joined in their support of the ius soli legislation, with Bishop Nunzio Galantino, secretary general of the Italian Bishop’s Conference (CEI), saying that if a way was found to accelerate things with regards to the rights of same-sex couples, “the same attention should be given to the rights of Italians left without citizenship.”

“The Vatican doesn’t vote,” the bishop clarified, “but the Church is bound to call out the heart of the matter.”

On Sep. 25 the president of CEI, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, also joined the ranks in favor of the controversial law, adding that while welcoming immigrants is an important first step, “there is another responsibility, promulgated over time, that has to be tackled with prudence, intelligence and realism.”

Many reporters spotted a difference of expression between Francis’s “open arms” approach and CEI’s call to caution, but Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, quickly shot them down.

“You can welcome people with open arms, but also with prudence,” Parolin told reporters Sep. 27, before taking part in Rome’s Lateran University’s conference sponsored by the pontifical organization Aid to the Church in Need on the situation facing Christians in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains area.

“The fundamental thing is welcome, because they are our brothers and sisters,” Parolin said. The prelate said that in the context of this “very intense Italian political debate,” it’s best if the Vatican sticks with “recalling principles.”

“What’s important is that these people not just be welcome but integrated, so that they can be inserted in a positive way into the fabric of our society,” Parolin said.

Source: Pope gets political in Italy’s debate on citizenship for immigrants

Roma Culture 101: Opening Minds With Song, Talk and Laughter – The New York Times

Good initiative:

For one week in August, a group of students in Lanciano, a hilltop town near the Adriatic Sea, sang songs, played music, danced, ate and went on field trips.

But this was no ordinary summer camp. This was the second annual Roma Summer School, a full immersion in Romani culture.

And so the roughly dozen participants — including “gadji,” or women of non-Roma origin — learned basic expressions in Romanés, the Romani language spoken in Abruzzo; gobbled up Roma cuisine; and were invited into Romani homes.

And they graduated with a better understanding, and appreciation, of the Roma and their struggles, returning home with a message of appreciation and integration.

At least that was the organizers’ intent.

“Only by sharing, understanding, drinking, eating and being welcomed by Roma families do you begin to have encounters on an equal footing,” explained Santino Spinelli, the ebullient director of the school. “That’s how you overcome the negative stereotypes and the widely held preconceptions and prejudices against Roma.”

Mr. Spinelli is arguably Italy’s best-known Roma personality, or at least the most famous Italian who admits to being a member of an often vilified group.

On stages elsewhere, he goes by the name Alexian, the accordion-playing leader of a Roma musical group that, he proudly says, has “played for three popes.”

As a musician, he has helped promote Roma culture, but he has also wanted to find a way to dispel persistent anti-Roma prejudice.

Last spring, Mr. Spinelli was at the seaside in San Vito Marina, taking a stroll after lunch, and the idea came to him: Why not have an intercultural school where Italians could meet Roma families and see for themselves what the Roma were really about?

“I am trying to get people to know the unknown side of the Roma, the families that are integrated, the Roma who work, who are honest, who have lived here for centuries but continue to preserve their culture,” he said.

The course emphasized Roma culture, but it unavoidably touched on modern social issues and preconceptions — like the notion that Roma are a nomadic people who feel at home living in filthy insalubrious camps.

Nothing could be further from the truth, he said.

“Roma have been living in houses in Abruzzo since the 14th century,” said Mr. Spinelli, who owns a lushly decorated villa just outside Lanciano that he shares with his aging parents, his children and his wife, Daniela De Rentiis, who coordinated the logistics of the school (and cooked tirelessly).

Camps do exist, but the Roma who live there are merely the latest wave of Romani refugees escaping persecution and war in their countries of origin, he said.

“The Roma’s presumed vocation to nomadism has been the result of repression and persecution throughout Europe,” he said. “Running away is not a choice; it’s called forced mobility.”

And the camps that have been created by city governments to house these refugees — mostly from the Balkans — negatively reinforce the myth of a wandering people.

“They’re really an example of racial segregation, a crime against humanity,” Mr. Spinelli said. “As an Italian I am ashamed of this treatment.”

During the week, the students visited museums and a fairground run by Roma, ate with Roma families, and went on outings.