Migrants Can Expect Worse Times After Italy’s Elections

LONDON — Migrants are facing an uncertain future in Italy following elections that saw the rise of populist anti-migrant parties across the board.
An anti-immigration coalition of right-wing parties secured 37% of the vote — not enough to govern alone but more than enough to ensure a strong hand in talks to form a coalition government.
Italy’s populist anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which expressed an anti-immigration message during the campaign, secured nearly 33% of the vote and was the individual party that won the most votes in the March 4 election.
The Five Star Movement indicated it would end its long-standing policy of not joining coalition governments, meaning the movement is a contender to form Italy’s next government.
Perhaps the biggest winner in the elections was Matteo Salvini’s far-right League, which took more than 17% of the vote and became the senior partner in the right-wing coalition.
“Italians have chosen to take back control of the country from the insecurity and precariousness put in place by [former Prime Minister Matteo] Renzi,” Salvini said at a news conference.
“Our guiding principle is: Italians first,” Salvini said during the campaign. “If saying ‘Italians first’ is xenophobic, then I don’t know what to say.”
While the make-up of Italy’s next government is unclear, hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees face an even more uncertain future amid growing antipathy towards their presence in Italy.
“The fear produced by the propaganda of the Italian right among migrants, especially minors, is unforgivable,” volunteer Italian teacher Agata Ronsivalle told the Guardian. “It is not right. They’re just boys and they’re scaring them to death.”
Prior to the election, the right-wing coalition pledged to deport hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants to their countries of origin, regardless of their circumstances.
More than 600,000 migrants have arrived in Italy by boat from Libya since 2013. Most Italians voted for parties that pledged to seek to repatriate failed asylum seekers and clamp down on future immigration.
Italy has sought greater engagement in Africa, including an increased military presence, to deter migrants crossing the Sahel to reach Libya and then to prevent them making the journey across the Mediterranean to Italy.
However, given the chaos in Libya since an Italian-backed military intervention in 2011, it is an increasingly difficult mission.
The Italian election results created fear among centrist parties and governments across Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plan seeking to make EU funding contingent on a country’s receipt of migrants is now facing major opposition.
The outcome also energised Europe’s anti-migration advocates, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban whose right-wing ruling Fidesz party is expected to easily win April’s parliamentary elections largely because of its anti-migrant message.
“A quarter of people supported parties in favour of immigration, while three-quarters backed parties against immigration,” Orban said of the Italian vote. “It will remain that way across Europe over the next 10-15 years.”
Mahmud el-Shafey is an Arab Weekly correspondent in London.
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