Matteo Salvini’s statements are consistent and coherent with the character he has built up over the years, and we must recognize it. However, the right-wing Lega leader is now the minister of the internal affairs. And that makes the difference.
He says he is against reforming the Dublin Regulation, which penalizes first arrival countries, such as Italy, for arriving asylum seekers and should therefore be amended. There is already a draft approved by the European Parliament, which introduces the idea that those who arrive in Italy or Greece arrive in Europe: thus the EU that should take charge of them with its own reception plan. The Lega did not approve this plan because in a fair division of asylum seekers, on the basis of objective criteria, Italy would have to welcome more asylum seekers in the long term than it has so far accepted.
In the last 10 years (2008-2017), the EU has received about five million asylum seekers, 1 percent of the entire population. Since Italy has a population equal to 12 percent of that of the EU, in a division based only on the amount of population, we would have reached 600,000, more than are now in the country. If we then talk about who has obtained a legal residence permit, the data say that Italy does less than many others. In 2017 alone, Germany recognized 10 times as many refugees as Italy (325,000 vs. 35,000). France has also recognized a higher number of them than us, and so have Austria and Sweden, much smaller countries that have admitted almost as many as Italy has.
Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi inaugurated Italy’s victim role and developed it with vigor under Interior Minister Marco Minniti. This victimhood is not supported by reality and by the numbers that stubbornly tell a very different story from Lega’s propaganda.
Salvini has repeated the same concepts already expressed in other words by his predecessor Minniti. With his anti-immigrant policies, Minniti was exceptionally cruel. He forged agreements with Libyan militias and the coast guard to block the refugee flows or to deport asylum seekers back to their torturers. Despite the constant rivalry with the Democratic Party, Salvini has praised the former minister, saying that he will move in the same direction, with greater effectiveness. In particular, Salvini maintained that he wants to increase repatriations and decrease resources for reception and hospitality. The agreement with the Libyan gangs has already drastically reduced flows, but this is not something to boast about, given the consequences on the lives of thousands of people.
In order to increase returns, the new minister found another target: insulting Tunisians. Since there’s no reason to escape from Tunisia (they said this even when there was Ben Ali), the Tunisians must be repatriated (which has already been happening for months, often with illegal collective returns). Also because, says Salvini, Tunisians coming to Italy are galley slaves—a perfect way to facilitate diplomatic relations and obtain cooperation.
The reduction of expenditure on reception is an abstract and propagandistic hypothesis. If the number of people decreases, the expenditure will decrease. But at unchanged figures, the expenditure cannot decrease because legal obligations, fortunately, do not allow for further savings. Savings are possible only by making the centers unlivable. Evidence has shown that policies to criminalize asylum seekers and reception have led to increased public expenditure and increased reception times.
The obsession with control leads to large reception centers, which are more expensive, have a negative impact on the territories and extend reception times. Between racist propaganda and lies, Salvini’s first days as minister are consistent with his character. We are worried, because in Italy we already have a social climate of widespread resentment, which often translates into violence, as happened in Calabria (we will see what investigators will ascertain, but there is no doubt that in the murder Soumaila Sacko there is an important component of racism). The fact that such an acclaimed government figure is blowing on the fire of popular hatred only confirms these concerns.
As well as denouncing what is false and instrumental in the words of Minister Salvini, we will need to promote a social opposition equal to the challenge. Soon, very soon.
Filippo Miraglia is the national vice president of Arci.
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