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The Italian Election and the African Migrant “Problem”

On 4 March 2018, the Italian electorate took to the voting booths to decide on who would lead their country. The preliminary results have been staggering. With 99% of the voting districts declared, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement has taken the lead with 32.22% of the vote with the ruling Democratic Party suffering a humiliating defeat by only getting 18.9% of the vote.

As expected, the centre-right alliance has received a significant number of votes. Forza Italia, a fairly traditional centre-right party (led by Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi) has been overtaken by both Lega and Fratelli d’Italia, two right-wing political parties that have campaigned with extensive use of Eurosceptic and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Along with the Five Star Movement, the newfound political power enjoyed by these parties is regarded by many as a clear warning to both the European Union and the mostly Africa immigrants who are both regarded as the cause of Italy’s recent troubles.

In recent years, Italy has been plagued by a post-recession economic malaise that has brought with it poor job opportunities for many, especially the youth. Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers have become the scapegoats of the increasingly insecure Italy.

Between 2014 and 2017, Italy received 500,000 migrants and refugees from North Africa who were seeking to escape war, oppression and extreme poverty. Most of Italy’s African migrants cross the Mediterranean Sea on overloaded rubber rafts. Considering that access to these rubber rafts is often through smugglers who charge exorbitant fees for a place on the raft, it should come as no surprise that the trip carries with it enormous risks as the rafts often sink en-route to Italy’s shores.

Most of Italy does not have a proper reception system for migrants. The Italian hillside town of Ventimiglia has become a launching pad for migrants in Italy to head north to France’s border which is about 10 kilometres away. Many migrants, though, get stuck at the border with many being caught by French policemen who send them back to Italy.

This is because of the 2003 Dublin Regulation that requires asylum seekers in European Union countries to apply in the first country they arrived in. What this means is that migrants who land in Italy and travel to other European Union countries are always at risk of being sent back.

This creates social problems for border-towns such as Ventimiglia, which only has a Red Cross Camp to shelter stranded migrants who must decide whether to attempt to cross the border again or seek asylum in Italy. Europe’s open borders are closing access to most of these African migrants.

Far-right groups such as Lega, Fratelli d’Italia, and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement have

seized public concern over the large numbers of migrants and refugees entering Italy to strengthen their anti-immigration electioneering campaigns. By 2017, the European Union and the Italian government committed about US$528 million to stop the continuous entry of migrants from North Africa, with about $161 million directed specifically at Libya.

On 3 February 2018, a white neo-Nazi sympathiser name Luca Traini targeted African immigrants in a drive-by shooting rampage in the central city of Macerata, injuring six African migrants. Traini is a failed candidate for the right-wing Lega party.

Trainie blamed African migrants for the death of an 18-year-old Italian womxn (a Nigerian drug pusher was arrested for her murder). Instead of condemning such instances of violence, the focus of Italy’s immigration debate has been on controlling and reducing migration. Silvio Berlusconi has pledged to deport 600,000 illegal immigrants from Italy with his coalition partner, Lega’s Matteo Salvini, stating that Italy has turned into a refugee camp.

So, what lies ahead for Italy’s African migrants? Considering that the majority of Italy’s voters have bought into the winning parties’ anti-immigrant rhetoric, it signals that far-right nationalism is becoming a key feature of Europe’s political sphere. To say that this proliferation of anti-immigrant rhetoric came out of nowhere would be disingenuous as laws such as the European Union’s 2003 Dublin Regulation did set the stage for regarding African migrants as strangers that do not belong in Europe.

Along with Israel’s recent proposition for the mass deportation of African migrants, it is becoming more apparent that African migrants are not wanted in Europe. Pushed out of the African countries they call home and pushed away by the European countries they seek to make home, African migrants are forced into a perpetual state of limbo and non-belonging.

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