A drive-by shooting targeting African migrants in Italy has fueled a nationwide debate about immigration and race ahead of the country’s general election on March 4.
In a retaliatory attack, 28-year-old Luca Traini on Feb. 3 shot six people from Africa in the streets of Macerata. Days before, authorities arrested a Nigerian immigrant accused of killing and dismembering an 18-year-old Italian woman.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants have traveled across the Mediterranean Sea from war-torn Libya into Italy. Former Italian Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi called Traini insane but said the 600,000 illegal migrants in Italy are “tantamount to a social bomb ready to explode because they live by the expedient of committing crimes.”
Berlusconi does not qualify to run for office in the upcoming election because of a tax fraud conviction, but he is still campaigning for his Forza Italia party to form a coalition with two far-right parties, the League and Brothers of Italy.
Opponents, including the ruling, center-left Democratic Party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, blamed the crisis on a European Union refugee pact Berlusconi signed in 2003. “Berlusconi is responsible for the social bomb that is immigration,” said Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement. “It is out of control because of him and because of the center-left.”
Thousands of anti-fascist demonstrators on Saturday crowded the streets of Macerata in response to the growing tension. “If there’s unemployment, blame the government, not the migrants,” protesters chanted. Gennaba Diop, a 23-year-old woman of Senegalese descent, held a sign that read, “My color is not a crime.”
“There’s a lot of tension and racism here, people look at you strangely all the time,” she told Agence France-Presse. “It’s not true that everyone is integrated.”
As the debate continues, migrants suffer in inhumane conditions. International aid group Doctors without Borders (MSF) on Thursday said about 10,000 migrants live without shelter, food, water, and healthcare because of Italy’s inadequate reception policies. “Instead of long-term policies that respond to the basic needs of the relatively manageable number of people now living in inhumane conditions, we increasingly witness the criminalization of migrants and refugees and those who help them with their basic needs,” said Tommaso Fabbri, head of the MSF project in Italy.
Stefano Torelli, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the current crisis and political climate could worsen the plight of migrants in Italy. “There is a growing sense of racism and intolerance toward the foreigners, especially from Africa, who are perceived as people staying in Italy without the right to stay here,” Torelli said. “Personally, I don’t remember such a climate of hate and intolerance over the last decades.”