CASTELBUONO, Sicily (CN) – An Italian-Nigerian star athlete is struck in the face by an egg thrown at her. A Moroccan is chased down and beaten to death by vigilantes who think he’s a thief. A 13-month-old gypsy girl is struck in the back by an air gun pellet as her mother carries her. She may be paralyzed forever, doctors say. A man from Guinea is shot in the face with an air gun by someone on a motor scooter. Two Nigerians waiting at a bus stop are hit by air gun pellets fired by men passing by on motor scooters.
From the north to the south of its peninsula, Italy is awash in stories of seemingly random violence against migrants and blatant racism this summer. It’s a spate of attacks adding fuel to an already acrimonious social and political debate over foreigners in a nation that’s become a flashpoint in Europe’s tensions over African and Asian refugees and migrants.
Many, particularly those on the left, blame Italy’s new government for stoking the violence. In the past two months, since Italy’s new anti-immigrant government took power, Italian media report there have been seven shootings in which migrants were injured.
Most of the blame is being heaped on Matteo Salvini, the media-savvy, right-wing anti-immigrant interior minister and leader of the League party.
Salvini openly attacks immigrants. During his campaign, he threatened to deport a half million people he says are living unlawfully in Italy. He’s also pushed for a census of Roma in Italy, a people also known as gypsies.
He’s closed Italy’s ports to non-government humanitarian ships carrying people rescued from the Mediterranean Sea. Routinely, he highlights crimes committed by foreigners on his Twitter feed. His slogan is: “First the Italians.”
Salvini’s hard-line on immigration prompted European leaders in late June to hammer out new policies on how to deal with the influx of asylum seekers. His refusal to welcome migrants has forced other European nations, in particular Spain, to take them in.
The consequences of Salvini’s tough approach appeared to be playing out on Tuesday too.
A humanitarian vessel off the coast of Libya, the Open Arms, and a left-wing Italian politician aboard that vessel told Italian media that an Italian oilfield vessel rescued 101 people from the Mediterranean and then took them back to Libya, from where they had left. Politically unstable and violence-wracked Libya is not considered a safe place to take asylum seekers.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees said Tuesday it was investigating the matter.
“Libya is not a safe port and this act might have violated international law,” the agency said in a statement. It did not reply Tuesday to a message seeking comment.
The Italian Coast Guard said in a statement to Courthouse News that the Libyan coast guard was in charge of the rescue operations.
On Italy’s mainland, the latest incident to spark this fresh round of accusations against the heated anti-immigrant rhetoric by Salvini and his supporters erupted after an egg was thrown at Daisy Osakue, a 22-year-old discus thrower on Italy’s national team. Someone threw an egg at her during the night between Sunday and early Monday morning near Turin.
In interviews with Italian media, she said she was attacked because of her race.
“Unfortunately, the confusion and chaos you see in parliament is the same chaos and confusion that there is among the general population,” she said, speaking to Ansa, an Italian news agency. “So, if you say that politicians represent the people, then they are representing them perfectly.”
She said that the public is blaming minorities for Italy’s problems because that’s what politicians are doing. She said she disagreed with Salvini, who denies racism is a problem, and added that racism is found in all aspects of Italian society.
Police, meanwhile, said they were not treating the attack on Osakue as racially motivated because white people in the same area recently had been struck by thrown eggs too.
Matteo Renzi, the former center-left Italian premier, called the attacks on people of “different skin colors” an emergency. He said it is no longer possible for anyone, especially those in government, to deny that.
Last week, Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, spoke out against violence in Italian society and called on the state to ease tensions and make sure that Italy doesn’t become a gun-toting “Far West.”
Salvini also backs laws to make it easier for Italians to possess firearms.
For his part, Salvini rejects the accusations against him and says he is not racist.
In a tweet on Monday, he included photos of people of different races taking selfies with him. He added: “I want politicians and do-gooder journalists to remember that I don’t judge people on the basis of their skin color, I divide them between good people and delinquents. There’s a future for the first, not for the others!”
Rebukes of Salvini poured out.
Marco Tarquinio, the head of Avvenire, a Roman Catholic newspaper, criticized Salvini in an editorial on Tuesday for not acknowledging the “xenophobic climate” in Italy.
“Denying the evidence of these many incidents simply absolves and enlarges this monster,” Tarquinio wrote.
“It’s ugly. I am embarrassed for Italy,” said Marco Morcone, the director of the Italian Council for Refugees, in a telephone interview.
But he said blame shouldn’t be heaped on a single person like Salvini, but on a “messed up politics that hasn’t fixed things” for too long.