Italy's new far-right thrives on anti-immigrant discourse
As September 25 elections near, competing opponents lead the polls with rhetoric circulating around banning immigrants from seeking asylum in Italy.
As part of Italy's new far-right direction in its campaign for the September 25 election, Giorgia Meloni, the Brothers of Italy leader, which has neo-fascist roots, and the League's Matteo Salvini have joined forces to demonstrate their "Italians First" nationalist agenda that vows to end mass migration into the country as a key aspect of their campaign.
The island of Lampedusa was Salvini's first destination on Sunday, which happens to be the landing point for tens of thousands of migrants each year from North Africa, where he stated that Lampedusa could not become "Europe's refugee camp," adding, "Only those with permission should enter Italy."
Meloni, on the other hand, explained that she differentiates between people fleeing conflict and persecution and those who are unusual economic migrants. Last month, however, she came under fire after she reposted a video of a woman being raped, allegedly by an asylum seeker in an unidentified Italian town, but the post was later removed for violating rules on social media.
Maurizio Ambrosini, a sociologist at Milan University, commented, "Unfortunately our political debate associates immigrants with landings... creating the idea of huge flows... while the actual number of immigrants has been stable for a decade in Italy," but according to a YouGov survey last December across Europe, 77% of the population say immigration levels are "too high" which is 10 points above the EU average.
The fear of a rise in crime rates was the biggest motive behind the popular belief among the Italians, as this was cited by some 53% of those surveyed, increasing to 76% of the Brothers of Italy voters and 67% of the League voters.
As opposed to that, Ambrosini iterates that the center-left Democratic Party "see immigrants as a resource for the Italian economy," but that they face difficulty explaining this to their voters "because it is an unpopular subject, and it is easier to have a debate about exclusion and hostility, which are immediately understandable."
'Make Italians pay less tax'
According to official figures, Italy could face a loss of 20% of its population due to the declining birth rates and mass aging of the population, so migrants can be considered a potential lifeline.
The ISTAT national statistics agency's report last year warned of the "consequences (of this trend) for the labor market," which is already reliant on immigrants for low-skilled jobs in agriculture, construction, home help, and hospitality, and "the pressure the country will have to face" to finance and equip its health systems and its pensions.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, this reliance was exposed when agricultural producers conducted plans to transport seasonal workers from Romania and Morocco for fieldwork. One grower in northern Italy, Martin Foradori Hofstatter, told AFP, "In theory, I could have found workers here in Italy but now Italians do not want to work in the fields or the vineyards."
Approximately 2.5 million legal immigrants account for more than 10% of Italy's workforce.
On Sunday, Salvini put his two cents regarding a solution for that, "We don't need migrants to repopulate villages. Let's make Italians pay less tax and you'll see how they repopulate these small places."
But Ambrosini cautioned, "Complex themes... don't lend themselves to simple election campaign slogans."