Immigration has been thrust to the fore of Italy’s election campaign after a politician from a right-wing party warned that “the white race” was in danger of dying out.
The debate over race, integration and multiculturalism is shaping up as one of the key issues in the March 4 election, in a country which has rescued around 600,000 migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean in the last four years, most of whom arrived by boat from Libya.
Attilio Fontana, a prominent politician from the Right-wing Northern League, said the “white race” in Italy could face extinction unless the number of migrants entering the country was drastically reduced.
“We have to decide if our ethnicity, if our white race, if our society continues to exist or if it will be canceled out,” said Mr Fontana, who is the League’s candidate to become the next governor of Lombardy, the wealthy northern region that includes Milan.
An unwillingness to take in “all” migrants was not “a question of being xenophobic or racist, but a question of being logical or rational,” he said.
His remarks were condemned by the centre-Left, but he received the endorsement of Matteo Salvini, the leader of the National League, who said that Islam and the migrant “invasion” posed a grave threat to Italian society.
“We are under attack. Our culture, society, traditions and way of life are at risk,” Mr Salvini said. “The colour of one’s skin has nothing to do with it, but the risk is very real. Centuries of history risk disappearing if Islamisation, which up until now has been underestimated, gains the upper hand.”
The Northern League has long campaigned against immigration but other parties are also playing on the fear factor as the election date approaches.
Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose Forza Italia party is allied with the Northern League in a Right-wing coalition that has a good chance of winning the election, claimed this week that migrants in Italy were fueling a crime wave.
He claimed there were 476,ooo migrants roaming the country – a highly questionable statement given that many of the 600,000 who have arrived in Italy in the past few years have moved onto other countries or been sent back home.
They were jobless, desperate and hungry and often raided the fridge during a burglary before turning their attention to stealing cash and jewellery.
“There’s a crime in Italy every 20 seconds,” he said during a television interview.
“There are three bank robberies every two days, but the newspapers don’t even mention them anymore because they are so common,” he told a chat show, Domenica Live.
Migrants “have to commit crimes in order to eat,” he claimed.
Photo Dispatch: Migrants risking life and limb to cross Alps from Italy to France
Official statistics tell a different story – crimes were down by nine per cent in 2017 and murders dropped by 12 per cent, according to the interior ministry.
Mr Berlusconi blamed the centre-Left governments of Matteo Renzi and his successor Paolo Gentiloni, the current prime minister, for letting so many migrants into Italy.
Italy’s maritime borders needed to be secured, the influx of migrants and refugees blocked and those already in the country sent back home, Mr Berlusconi said.
The anti-establishment Five Star Movement, Italy’s most popular party, has also jumped on the bandwagon.
Luigi di Maio, the party’s leader, said at the weekend: “I don’t want to resign myself to the idea that just because the birth rate is low in Italy, we need to promote immigration.”
Matteo Renzi, former premier and the head of the ruling Democratic Party, accused the Northern League of pandering to racism and whipping up fear of migrants.
“We look to the future, not to fear,” he said.
Paolo Gentiloni, the prime minister, who is also from the Democratic Party, said that opposition parties who said they would stop the influx of migrants entirely were giving false promises.
“The issue is how to manage flows, because our country will need these people,” he said last week.
Through deals with Libyan militias and the UN-recognised government in Tripoli, Italy has managed to reduce migrant arrivals by about a third in the last few months.
The accords have been heavily criticised by humanitarian groups, who say they result in hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees in Libya being stuck in squalid conditions where they are beaten, tortured and raped.
Click Here: NRL Telstra Premiership