Anti-mi­grant right wing now in charge of Italy

The torch­bearer of the coun­try’s far right is now in power and wants to make good on anti-mi­grant prom­ises

The East African - - NEWS - By CHICO HARLAN The Washington Post

The torch­bearer of Italy’s far right had been in Si­cily only for a few hours, call­ing the is­land the “refugee camp of Europe,” say­ing that mi­gra­tion of this mag­ni­tude only cre­ates “chaos,” and when he ducked in­side a gated mi­grant hold­ing cen­tre for his next event, a new kind of chaos be­gan in his wake.

Some 150 Si­cil­ians were out­side the con­crete build­ing, wait­ing for new deputy Prime Min­is­ter and Min­is­ter of the In­te­rior Mat­teo Salvini to re-emerge. One per­son yelled that mi­grants should “go home.” Oth­ers came to the mi­grants’ de­fense. Sev­eral ar­gu­ments broke out.

When things calmed down, there was at least one thing peo­ple agreed on: The anti-mi­gra­tion view­point has pre­vailed in Italy, and Salvini’s rise is the clear­est ev­i­dence of that yet.

“He rep­re­sents the new xeno­pho­bic right, and views like mine are los­ing ground,” said Memmo Cam­pailla, 63, a green­house builder who had been ar­gu­ing for a wel­com­ing Italy. “Very bad days await.”

“I am fight­ing for my Italy,” said Mary Boscarino, 36, a hair­dresser who stood nearby. “We are with Salvini.”

With an Italy-first mes­sage, Salvini has rock­eted into the cen- tre of Europe’s bat­tle over mi­gra­tion. He is re­cast­ing the cul­tural de­bate about how to treat those flee­ing from the Mid­dle East and Africa, high­light­ing ex­am­ples of mi­grant crim­i­nal­ity and de­scrib­ing the in­flux as an “in­va­sion.” And now, in con­trol of Italy’s in­te­rior min­istry, he has power to do what he has pledged: More tightly close the doors of a coun­try that, sev­eral years ago, ranked among the most wel­com­ing in Europe.

He has risen to power on a mix of grass­roots anx­i­ety and his own po­lit­i­cal acu­men. He is the leader of Italy’s far-right League, a once-fringe re­gional se­ces­sion­ist party that polls now show is on the brink of be­com­ing the coun­try’s most pop­u­lar one. He styles him­self as a friend of Putin and a thorn in the side of Brus­sels bu­reau­crats. He is an ir­re­press­ible so­cial me­dia user. He has a pub­lic pro­file far larger than that of Italy’s new prime min­is­ter, an aca­demic with lit­tle po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence.

Salvini is a gifted speaker with an avun­cu­lar style, dress­ing ca­su­ally, us­ing big hand ges­tures and punchy sen­tences.

Salvini won the in­te­rior min­istry job as part of the deal reached re­cently that gives Italy a new gov­ern­ment com­posed of the League and an­other pop­ulist in­sur­gent party, the Five Star Move­ment. From that perch, Salvini said he in­tends to pur­sue some of the mi­gra­tion-re­lated prom­ises that were cen­tral to the pop­ulist surge: Speed­ing up de­por­ta­tions, mak­ing it harder for ves­sels to bring mi­grants to Ital­ian shores, and pres­sur­ing Europe to re­write reg­u­la­tions re­quir­ing mi­grants to claim asy­lum in the coun­try where they first set foot.

In an in­ter­view at a sea­side restau­rant in Poz­za­llo, a town whose beach­front has a long stretch of sun­bathers and then a cen­tre to hold newly ar­rived mi­grants, Salvini said that, in the­ory, mi­grants could suc­cess­fully in­te­grate in Italy. “But it’s a mat­ter of num­bers,” he said. “With ex­ces­sive num­bers, there is only so­cial clash and chaos. I be­lieve that a lim­ited quan­tity of im­mi­grants, pos­si­bly through an Aus­tralian-style pro­gramme on the ba­sis of work qual­i­fi­ca­tions, can be let in. In the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, no.”

Italy is ground zero for Europe’s mi­grant de­bate be­cause it has so dis­pro­por­tion­ately shoul­dered the bur­den. Among those who crossed the Mediter­ranean last year, 64 per cent landed in Italy. Some 400,000 have ap­plied for asy­lum here over the past four years, a group that is fight­ing for space in Italy’s shrink­ing job mar­ket — par­tic­u­larly in Si­cily, where un­em­ploy­ment stands at 21.5 per cent, ac­cord­ing to Euro­pean Union statistics.

At a news con­fer­ence, Salvini spoke ap­prov­ingly about the work done by Italy’s out­go­ing in­te­rior min­is­ter, Marco Min­niti, a mem­ber of the cen­tre-left. In a sign of how a tra­di­tional right-lean­ing stance to­ward mi­gra­tion has swept across Italy, Min­niti has worked over the past two years to bol­ster Libya’s Coast Guard and cre­ate tighter rules for NGOS op­er­at­ing in the Mediter­ranean.

Dur­ing the first five months of this year, mi­grant ar­rivals in Italy were down more than 75 per cent from the same pe­riod in 2017, ac­cord­ing to data from the United Na­tions’ mi­gra­tion agency.

He rep­re­sents the new xeno­pho­bic right, and views like mine are los­ing ground,” Memmo Cam­pailla, 63, who ar­gues for a wel­com­ing Italy

Pic­ture: AFP

Italy’s new Deputy Prime Min­is­ter and Min­is­ter of the In­te­rior Mat­teo Salvini is the leader of Italy’s far-right League, a once-fringe re­gional se­ces­sion­ist party that polls now show is on the brink of be­com­ing the coun­try’s most pop­u­lar one.

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