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 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
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.