For the New York Review of Books‘ daily edition, Caitlin L. Chandler examines the fallout from Italy’s new law, the Security and Immigration Decree, known as “Salvini’s Decree,” after deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini. The measure, passed last November, eradicates a class of humanitarian protections for individuals who do not qualify for refugee status, but who needed to leave their countries due to “violence, famine, or human trafficking.” According to Chandler, before the Decree, 25% of Italy’s asylum seekers avoided deportation under this category of protections. The law’s implementation has meant a rash of evictions from squats, where it’s estimated that 10,000 migrants have taken up shelter.
Chandler notes how media portrayal and racist, anti-immigrant language from leaders of Italy’s far right manipulated public opinion and drove passage of the Decree:
Although immigrants comprise only 8 percent of Italy’s population, Salvini rails against “the invasion” and has blocked rescue ships from landing at Italian ports (“porti chiusi,” he likes to brag on Twitter and Instagram, meaning “harbors closed”). Despite the fact that, since 2014, the share of crimes committed by foreigners is decreasing within every single region in Italy, anti-immigrant sentiment, stoked by Salvini’s government, is at a dangerous, all-time high.
Salvini and his party stoke fears around migration by portraying migrants as criminals. Over the past ten years, overall crime has decreased in Italy by 8.3 percent, and crimes committed by foreigners have also fallen, with convictions at an all-time low. But each time a crime occurs in an immigrant neighborhood or when non-Italian citizens stand accused, Salvini exploits it. Such was the case with the brutal rape and murder of a sixteen-year-old girl, Desirée Mariottini, in a squat in San Lorenzo, an immigrant neighborhood in Rome. Two Senagalese men, one Nigerian man, and one Ghanaian man were arrested in connection with her assault and death. Salvini visited San Lorenzo and laid a rose at her memorial, then said he would come back with a bulldozer.
The Italian public grows ever more fearful. In a 2018 study, over half of Italians greatly overestimated how many migrants were in the country. Meanwhile, in the two months after Salvini became interior minister, Italian civil society groups recorded twelve shootings, two murders, and thirty-three physical assaults against immigrants.