“Mine is a story similar to many others,” 26-year-old Rachid Khadiri Abdelmoula told La Repubblica. He arrived in Turin in 1998, after crossing the Strait of Gibraltar and travelling overland to Italy.
“I wanted to follow the example of my brothers who helped the family from here,” he told the newspaper, joining them in the north-western Italian city. Abdelmoula’s brothers insisted he continued studying, a task he juggled while working - like many immigrants across the country - as a street vendor.
After fifteen years in Italy, Abdelmoula graduated this week from the Polytechnic University of Turin.
Praise for his achievement has come from an unlikely corner, as Turin’s Northern League leader Fabrizio Ricca hailed Abdelmoula’s graduation as a symbol of “integration”.
“Rachid is an example of good will, of commitment,” Ricca said, quoted in La Repubblica. The Northern League politician also asked city mayor Piero Fassino to award Abdelmoula the city’s civil seal, the newspaper reported.
In praising the graduate, Ricca defended the Northern League for its stance on immigration. “The league is not against immigration, but it is in favour of immigration that allows an honest and keen person to find their space...it is against indiscriminate immigration, through which the bad behaviour of some ends up looking like the traits of many,” he said.
The right wing party has long had a negative approach to immigration. In July the Northern League slammed the Vatican for its “religious preaching”, after Pope Francis called for greater tolerance of immigrants.
The same month Northern League MP Roberto Calderoli sparked outrage when he described Congolese-born Cecile Kyenge, Italy’s first black minister, as an “orangutan”. Despite calls for his resignation from across the political spectrum, Calderoli is still in politics.
In August Matteo Salvini, a Northern League MEP, said Kyenge should go and work in Egypt after she suggested the country’s political crisis would prompt a wave of immigration to Italy.
However, Ricca’s comments in Piedmont - the ‘best’ region for immigrant integration in Italy - suggest a more tolerant approach.
In Turin, Abdelmoula has already earned one degree since arriving from Morocco and is now set to continue juggling work and study. “My dream is to find a part time job in an engineering studio and in the meantime continue studying at university for a specialized degree,” he told La Repubblica.
“But at the moment, I will continue to ‘be the Moroccan’, selling my merchandise on the street.”