Italy’s migrants don’t expect life to change after the election

In a derelict car park a stone's throw from the centre of Rome live dozens of mostly African migrants, who sleep in tents while dreaming of escaping to northern Europe.

Italy's migrants don't expect life to change after the election
Migrants sit outside a former reception centre in Rome. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The March 4th general election saw parties promising mass expulsions of illegal immigrants make big gains, but in reality little will change for those huddled in the campsite. Their makeshift homes have been provided by the Baobab Experience, a volunteer organization which has been working with migrants since 2015 despite repeated evictions and police confiscating their materials.

Kicked out of their original home in an old glassworks near Rome's Tiburtina train station just before Christmas 2015, Baobab's present shelter for migrants is a campsite that is under constant threat.

“We have already been evicted more than 20 times,” coordinator Andrea Costa told AFP. “We often say in Italy that there's no limit to how bad things can get. But I wonder what could be worse than a tent camp.”

READ ALSO: Understanding the Italian election result, and what happens now?

More than 690,000 migrants, most from Sub-Saharan Africa, have arrived in Italy by boat from Libya since 2013. Migration study foundation ISMU estimates that around 500,000 — 0.9 percent of the population — are living in the country illegally.

No surprise

Baobab says that since 2015 it has worked with more than 70,000 migrants, of whom 95 percent want to leave Italy. Many come to them after leaving Italy's asylum reception system, either in an attempt to move north or because their asylum application has failed.

But those who are trying to stay in the country don't expect much to change.

Migrants sit under graffiti reading 'Rome anti-racist'. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Patrick, a 29-year-old undocumented Nigerian, has been in Italy for four years after arriving via Libya, and has remained despite his asylum application being rejected. He splits his days between his shared apartment on the outskirts of Rome, Italian lessons and begging outside a supermarket in a wealthy area of the city.

The election result, which saw a right-wing coalition headed by far-right, anti-immigrant iconoclast Matteo Salvini win the largest share of the vote, did not surprise him.

“Most Italians are racist. This is not news,” he says. “People don't let us sit on public transport, or they close their noses as though we smell bad. If there are only black people waiting at a bus stop, often the bus doesn't even stop.”

'They must stay'

However the promise of the right and anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) — who finished close behind the right — to expel hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants is a hard one to maintain, given the reluctance of the migrants' countries of origin to take them back.

Despite a major effort from the outgoing government led by the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), just 6,514 people were repatriated in 2017, and that was a 12 percent increase on the previous year. The right's rhetoric has it that the PD has allowed an “invasion” to happen, but that same government has also cracked down on arrivals after controversial agreements with Libyan authorities and militias that has cut the number of people landing on Italian shores by 70 percent since last summer.

Despite an increase in anti-migrant sentiment, there is some resistance to the idea of sending them all back, as Salvini and is allies would like. Stefano Calabro, the left-wing mayor of tiny Sant'Alessio in Aspromonte in the southern region of Calabria, has seen his village reborn with public funds, jobs and services that have arrived thanks to the migrant reception system.

His village has 330 inhabitants and welcomes about 30 to 40 asylum seekers and refugees for six-month integration programmes that give full-time or part-time jobs to ten locals.

“Italy cannot do without good reception centres,” he says.

Luigi De Filippis, president of the Coopisa association which manages migrant reception in Sant'Alessio in Aspromonte and other nearby villages, says that even the people who voted for M5S or the League don't want to see the migrants leave.

“People say to me 'we must send the migrants home. But not the ones in the village, we know them and they should stay',” he said.

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By Fanny Carrier


Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Italy’s government was plunged into turmoil on Tuesday as foreign minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving his party to start a breakaway group.

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Di Maio said his decision to leave the Five Star Movement (M5S) – the party he once led – was due to its “ambiguity” over Italy’s support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

He accused the party’s current leader, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, of undermining the coalition government’s efforts to support Ukraine and weakening Italy’s position within the EU.

“Today’s is a difficult decision I never imagined I would have to take … but today I and lots of other colleagues and friends are leaving the Five Star Movement,” Di Maio told a press conference on Tuesday.

“We are leaving what tomorrow will no longer be the first political force in parliament.”

His announcement came after months of tensions within the party, which has lost most of the popular support that propelled it to power in 2018 and risks being wiped out in national elections due next year.

The split threatens to bring instability to Draghi’s multi-party government, formed in February 2021 after a political crisis toppled the previous coalition.

As many as 60 former Five Star lawmakers have already signed up to Di Maio’s new group, “Together for the Future”, media reports said.

Di Maio played a key role in the rise of the once anti-establishment M5S, but as Italy’s chief diplomat he has embraced Draghi’s more pro-European views.

READ ALSO: How the rebel Five Star Movement joined Italy’s establishment

Despite Italy’s long-standing political and economic ties with Russia, Draghi’s government has taken a strongly pro-NATO stance, sending weapons and cash to help Ukraine while supporting EU sanctions against Russia.

Di Maio backed the premier’s strong support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, including sending weapons for Kyiv to defend itself.

In this he has clashed with the head of Five Star, former premier Giuseppe Conte, who argues that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution.

Di Maio attacked his former party without naming Conte, saying: “In these months, the main political force in parliament had the duty to support the diplomacy of the government and avoid ambiguity. But this was not the case,” he said.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“In this historic moment, support of European and Atlanticist values cannot be a mistake,” he added.

The Five Star Movement, he said, had risked the stability of the government “just to try to regain a few percentage points, without even succeeding”.

But a majority of lawmakers – including from the Five Star Movement – backed Draghi’s approach in March and again in a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Draghi earlier on Tuesday made clear his course was set.

“Italy will continue to work with the European Union and with our G7 partners to support Ukraine, to seek peace, to overcome this crisis,” he told the Senate, with Di Maio at his side.

“This is the mandate the government has received from parliament, from you. This is the guide for our action.”

The Five Star Movement stormed to power in 2018 general elections after winning a third of the vote on an anti-establishment ticket, and stayed in office even after Draghi was parachuted in to lead Italy in February 2021.

But while it once threatened to upend the political order in Italy, defections, policy U-turns and dismal polling have left it struggling for relevance.

“Today ends the story of the Five Star Movement,” tweeted former premier Matteo Renzi, who brought down the last Conte government by withdrawing his support.