Upcoming Italian elections hinging largely on immigration questions

Watching the various immigration debate stories in American media, it’s easy to come away with the impression that this is all something drummed up by President Trump and the “far right” in America (whatever that means these days). But if you pay attention to the foreign press, that’s far from the case. Questions about immigration – both legal and illegal – as well as refugees and the effect they have on host nations are a global phenomenon in the 21st century. In Europe, Germany has been one of the most extreme examples, but similar debates have fired up activists in Great Britain, Hungary, Austria, Denmark and more.

Now those same questions are riling up the bases on both sides of the impending general election in Italy. They’ve been on the front lines of the refugee crisis and have suffered from detrimental effects as a result. This has some of the candidates engaging in a debate with a script which could have been lifted from any number of other nations. (L.A. Times)

A three-way coalition, which appears close to gaining the 40% it needs to win the national election, features Matteo Salvini, head of the anti-migrant League; a small party descended from Italy’s wartime fascist party; and ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is campaigning on a promise to eject 600,000 illegal migrants. Berlusconi is barred from office because of a fraud conviction.

The right-wing trio is benefiting from rising intolerance toward migrants after the arrival of more than 600,000 by sea, mainly Africans departing from Libya, over the last four years. Many have moved on and requested asylum in other European countries, but 200,000 are housed in reception centers in Italy waiting on asylum applications. Unable to work, migrants are seen loitering in small-town centers, provoking accusations from locals that they are happy to live off Italian taxpayers.

Italians are citing the same complaints we’ve seen in Germany and other parts of Europe when it comes to skepticism over accepting large numbers of migrants and refugees, largely from Libya and Syria. There was already an incident in Macerata, where an African immigrant is charged with the brutal slaying of an Italian woman. In retaliation, an Italian man drove into town and shot and wounded six migrants near an immigration center. Other scattered reports of violence and public protests have gone along the same lines.

In another parallel to what we’ve seen in Germany, Italian media features any number of editorials complaining of the large number of jobless migrants living in and around those immigration centers, soaking up resources at a time when Italy’s economy isn’t exactly booming. The obvious feelings of resentment among working-class Italians should have been entirely predictable.

A big problem facing those seeking to curb migration is that the smaller political parties they are forming around are the remnants of the old fascist parties which once controlled Italian politics. And there are still stalwarts of that movement involved today. The man I mentioned above who shot the migrants in Macerata actually performed a fascist salute on steps of the town’s war memorial before surrendering to police. Needless to say, this makes you something of a target in Italy since they aren’t emotionally far removed from, well… you know. That whole Il Duce thing is still far more fresh in their memories.

The elections are coming up on March 4th so we’ll check back in then. It’s still doubtful that the smaller, nationalist parties will be able to take a majority, but much like in Germany they may see significant gains in this election cycle and seek to build on that success going forward.

Ed Morrissey Jan 28, 2022 8:31 AM ET