Italian anti-racism groups warn of rapid increase in attacks
Anti-immigrant violence follows far-right Matteo Salvini entering government
Syrian and Iraqi migrants land at a beach in Isola di Capo Rizzuto, near Crotone, southern Italy on July 24th, 2018 after crossing the Mediterranean Ocean. Photograph: Antonino d’Urso
Anti-racist groups in Italy have warned of a dangerous acceleration in attacks on immigrants after 11 shootings, two murders and 32 physical assaults were recorded in the two months since Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League party, entered government as interior minister.
Opposition politicians have accused Salvini of creating a climate of hate following the attacks, which have coincided with an anti-migration drive that has included closing Italian ports to NGO rescue boats and a vow to expel non-Italian Roma.
In one incident in July, a 13-month-old Roma girl was shot in the back with an airgun pellet. In at least two recent attacks on immigrants, the perpetrators have allegedly shouted Mr Salvini’s name.
“Propaganda around anti-migrant policies has clearly contributed to creating a climate of hostility and to legitimising racist violence,” said Grazia Naletto, the manager of migration policies and racial discrimination of the Lunaria association, which publishes quarterly reports on the number of racially motivated attacks in Italy.
“We are facing a dangerous acceleration of episodes of violence against migrants,” Naletto said.
The group recorded nine attacks on immigrants between 1 June and 1 August 2017, with no shootings and no deaths – less than a third for same period in 2018.
On Sunday, a Moroccan man in Aprilia, 17 miles outside Rome, was the latest to be killed. He was followed and beaten to death by two young Italians who claimed he was a thief.
Three days earlier, in Vicenza, in the north-east of Italy, a 33-year-old factory worker from Cape Verde was wounded by a single gunshot. The suspect is a 40-year-old Italian who opened fire from a window in his home.
On Thursday night in Naples, Cissè Elhadji Diebel, 22, a street vendor from Senegal with a regular permit of stay, was wounded by a gunshot fired by two people on a scooter.
In Naples in June, Konate Bouyagui, a 22-year-old Malian with legal residency, was struck by a bullet fired by two Italian boys. Nine days earlier, in Caserta, north of Naples, two Malians, Daby and Sekou, were riddled with airgun pellets fired in a driveby shooting from a black Fiat Panda. The aggressors, both Italian, shouted Mr Salvini’s name.
Two railway porters in Venice who in July beat an unlicensed African porter at the station, allegedly told him: “This is Salvini’s country.” A black Italian athlete, Daisy Osakue, suffered an eye injury when an egg was thrown at her in Turin.
Mr Salvini has claimed “the wave of racism is simply an invention of the left” and in response to rising criticism on Sunday tweeted “many enemies, much honour” – a reference to a quote from Benito Mussolini on what was also the anniversary of the fascist dictator’s birth.
Mr Salvini’s first move when he entered the interior ministry on June 1st was to say: “Good times are over for illegals.”
That same evening, in Rosarno, in the southern province of Reggio Calabria, a bullet struck the head of Soumalia Sacko, a 22-year-old Malian who was rummaging for metal sheets to repair his shack in one of the sprawling encampments that house the thousands of poorly paid immigrants who pick the region’s crops. The suspect is a middle-aged Italian man who was living near the encampment.
“Statements against migrants, almost always coupled with fake news, seem to have legitimised the use of violence against asylum seekers, who are often cast as parasites and invaders,” said Yvan Sagnet, a Cameroonian anti-racism activist and president of the No Cap association, which fights to improve the rights of immigrant workers. “I have never seen anything like this before in this country and I don’t see an easy way out.’’
Hints of violence
There were hints of the violence to come when, on February 3rd in Macerata, one month before national elections, Luca Traini opened fire on six immigrants, wounding all of them. Extreme right-wing paraphernalia was found in his home, including a copy of Mein Kampf. A year earlier, Mr Traini had been a League candidate in local elections in Corridonia.
“The extreme right has found a party through which it can speak,” said Carla Nespolo, president of the National Association of Italian Partisans, a group founded by members of the second world war Italian resistance.
“Migrants in Italy have taken the place of Jews during fascism. This is one of the most far-right governments since the end of fascism.”
Mamadou Sall, the president of Florence’s Senegalese association and an Italian citizen who has lived in the country for more than 20 years, said he wanted to leave. “Every time you speak to an Italian you realise that there’s been a lot of impact on their mentality,” he said. “They seem to be closer to the world of fascism, speaking about the good things that fascism did during the war.”
Mr Sall was on the frontline during protests against the Italian government after the death of Idy Diene, a street vendor from Senegal who was killed on March 5th, the day after the Italian elections. Diene was shot six times as he sold his wares on the Vespucci bridge in Florence.
His killer was Roberto Pirrone, a 65-year-old Italian who told police he had planned to kill himself owing to his dire financial situation. He said that when he was unable to muster the courage to do this he had shot the first random target he could find. A racist motive was ruled out, prompting fury among the city’s Senegalese population.
In a tragic twist, it was revealed that Diene (54) was the cousin of Samb Modou, who was killed by Gianluca Casseri, a supporter of the fascist CasaPound party, when Casseri opened fire in two of Florence’s central markets in December 2011.
While the Italian government seems to ignore the problem, the police are working to bring the perpetrators to justice and several arrests have been made across Italy in recent weeks.
Two weeks ago, the Turin district attorney, Armando Spataro, unveiled measures to combat racially motivated crimes, targeting anyone who commits “crimes motivated by hatred and ethnic-religious discrimination”. The following day, he received insults and threats on social media from Mr Salvini’s supporters.
“There is no value for people with a different skin colour,” said Mr Sall. “When a black person is killed there is always an excuse. But when a foreigner kills an Italian they only focus on the fact that [the assailant] was foreign and the skin colour.”