Italy's newcomers face post-election hostility from all sides

Italy's newcomers face post-election hostility from all sides
In-depth: After an election which saw many Italians turn to anti-immigrant parties on both the left and the right, Italy's newcomers fear for their future, writes Marta Bellingreri.
6 min read
24 March, 2018
Refugees and migrants from Africa gather near the port in Palermo, Sicily [Getty]
"Politicians in Italy speak, but they don't walk in the streets, they don't live in the neighbourhoods, they are far from our lives," said 'Z', a cultural mediator working in a police station in Italy, who the The New Arab agreed not to name. 

"But Italian people listen to them and then, they look at us badly in the streets."

As many other migrants living in Italy for many years, he fears the next Italian government could not be favourable to migrants and refugees living or arriving in Italy. He is originally from Bangladesh and has spent the last 18 years of his life in Italy. "But I don't want to request the Italian citizenship. Even obtaining it, I will always feel as a stranger," he said.

Z mostly refers to the Lega's leader, Matteo Salvini, spot for Italian election's campaign #PrimaGliItaliani, which means "Italians First". "My name, my foreign accent when I speak Italian, my religion and the colour of my skin will never allow me to be considered fully Italian or to become a priority as a citizen equal to others, at least for these conservative politicians."

But his son was born in Italy. "He is only three years old and he should have the right in the future to obtain Italian citizenship because he is growing up here and he will study in this country."

The discourse on migration and right to asylum in Italy is only debated as a problem of security and not in terms of rights

The controversial debate around the citizenship law for children or adults having spent a consistent part of their life and education in Italy and/or born in the country, called ius soli (which would be in fact also a ius culturae), didn't lead the previous government to pass the law: at the scheduled Senate's session at the end of December 2017 there was not the legal number to vote it, after all the Five Star Movement's deputees and the centre right ones boycotted it.

After the March 4 elections, with the vote preferences of Italian citizens going mostly to right-wing parties (37 percent to the right coalition parties, including the 17 percent for Lega), and a 32 percent to the Five Stars Movement, the law will hardly be at the core of future Parliament's discussions.

Five Stars Movement was born as an anti-establishment movement; what it says about refugees and migrants, as a party founded in 2009 already attracting 25 percent of voters in 2013, were more similar to the (extreme) right's proclamations in the last few years.

The government is still yet to be formed and the coalition might reserve some surprise for the voters of the different coalitions.

Matteo Salvini, head of the far-right Northern League and 
key figure in Italy's potential right-wing coalition 
government, has captured the anger of many Italians 
and directed it against immigrants [Getty]

But in fact, the major problem both for migrants and Italians, is the high rate of unemployment especially in the south.

A man called Hosseini, from Bangladesh, was one of the first to open a small Indian fast food restaurant in Palermo, near the Faculty of Law, in the city centre.

Apart from future legislative changes, which will take even more time, what has already changed in the last five years is the views among a majority of Italians towards migrants, whether newcomers or living in Italy for many years.

"The discourse on migration and right to asylum in Italy is only debated as a problem of security and not in terms of rights," Alberto Biondo, a member of the Borderline Sicily association, told The New Arab.

His association works extensively in Sicily, monitoring, reporting and taking care of refugee and migrant rights on the island.

"The people who arrived in Italy five, eight or eleven years ago will suffer more than before and will perceive more these changes. And I am afraid that security will continue to dominate the debate and a future new law on migration."

"Nowadays people here wait for the documents and then they leave to the North of Europe, like the Sicilians. There are no good opportunities of jobs."

Hosseini is in fact not worried about the perceptions of Italians towards him or to the future of the laws, but he fears he will be forced to close his small fast food restaurant because of the lack of customers. "If people do not work, they do not come to eat here, and many other small restaurants opened next to me, so I have even less clients."

The financial crisis in Italy since 2008, affected many small enterprises like Hosseini's ones and both Italians and foreigners complained about the lack of support from the government.

Read more: Mistaken identity: Italian court mistakes Eritrean refugee for world's most dangerous people smuggler

"Some Italians are angry at migrants because they noticed that their small shops or restaurants, with some community-based solidarity system and sometimes less expenses, survived the crisis, while theirs didn't," Z told The New Arab.

"Ten years ago you would have not felt this problem like today. The consequence is that anger manipulated by politicians who then proclaim to expel all migrants from Italy."

Before and during Italy's election campaign, this was one of the most heard slogans and some migrants went to ask Z if it was true and possible, and what they would have done in that case.

Read More: Investigation: Coercive 'voluntary' deportations leave refugees trapped in jail and facing torture

"From an economic point of view, neither Italy nor the rest of Europe have the economic resources in their budgets to activate repatriations of migrants, nor are there bilateral agreements in place for repatriations with all the migrants' countries of origin," Alberto Biondo said.

The EU's budget has privileged security and border control rather than refugee protection in the last 20 years.

Some young refugees in Italy were intimidated by the racist climate during Italy's elections campaign and this feeling increased after an extreme-right wing Italian militant shot and injured six black people in the small city of Macerata.

The day after the election a Senegalese man, Idy Diene, was shot dead by a 64-year-old who wanted to commit suicide and instead, he killed a black man in the street.

"If migrants and refugees are invisible and without rights, they are more useful in the agriculture fields and generally in the capitalistic system. If they don't rebel against the system, governments are not even interested in investing budgets in repatriations."

Read more: Italians march against racism after migrant shootings

"I have been following the Facebook pages of Salvini, Di Maio, Meloni: most of them, they blame us migrants for the economic problems." Zakaria, a 17-year-old from Gambia told The New Arab.

"The main problems are mafia and corruption but nobody said that. In other European countries black people are not seen like in Italy, my Gambian friends say from Germany."

When you read the racist comments Salvini posts, you feel sad, you feel people don't think we're human beings

Zakaria arrived in June 2017 in Sicily, rescued in the Mediterranean Sea together with other refugees by a Swedish boat. "I am very active on Facebook, and even I comment to Salvini's posts, I use Google Translate to post in Italian: "Talk about other things! Why do you always talk about migrants? Don't you have other things to talk about?" Zakaria confessed to The New Arab that his worries and fears about the future sometimes don't allow him to sleep well.

"But I always blame the State, not the people who look at me badly. People think you're part of gangs just because of what you dress: but I want to wear whatever I want." And he concluded: "When you read the racist comments Salvini posts, you feel sad, you feel people don't think we're human beings."

Marta Bellingreri is a freelance researcher and writer. Follow her on Twitter: @MartaDafne