Image Credits: The Independent
Matteo Salvini has emerged as the winner of Italian politics since the 2018 general election campaign. A member of the far-right Lega party, Salvini was able to muster enough support to propel his party into a coalition government with the populist Five Star Movement under current Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Today, he plays a decisional role within the Italian parliament as deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior.
Due to his position within the Conte cabinet, it is important to understand Salvini’s political agenda and how it has been formed. Salvini’s political figure is commonly associated with a strong anti-immigration message that has its roots in the foundation of his party. The Lega was formally established as the Lega Nord in 1991 as a federation of regions within Northern Italy, who demanded for a federalised Italy and a secession of the North from the rest of the country. The calls for an independent Northern Italy were entrenched in the ‘othering’ of the Southern Italian migrant, who was stereotypically seen as less hardworking and so benefitting from the labour of his Northern counterpart.
The same discourse was retained by Salvini and newer members in the Lega Nord structure, however what was subverted was the ‘enemy’. Replacing the Southern Italian migrant with the non-Italian and frequently non-European migrant caused a total rebranding of the party, changing their name from Lega Nord to simply Lega during 2018. Nonetheless, much of the same rhetoric was used, such as homogenising migrants into categories like ‘criminals’, as well as newer dimensions, such as overtly racist tones. Contextualising this message within the national climate allows us to consider how Salvini gained his notoriety. Wracked by the 2008 financial crisis, Italy saw a rise in unemployment and a stagnant economy. The arrival of thousands of migrants during the refugee crisis allowed for the creation of both a scapegoat and a new source of worry for the destabilised Italian public.
In many ways, one can view Salvini’s hard-line stance against migration as central to why the Italian public voted for his party during the elections. Thus, to consolidate his popularity as Minister of the Interior, he has continued to act upon his promise to reduce migration to Italy. Most recently, this has taken the form of the Decree-Law on Immigration and Security, also dubbed the ‘Salvini’ Decree due to his drafting and pushing of the legislation. This new set of laws is viewed as a crackdown on migrants; it legalises a duration of 180 days in detention centres for newly-arrived foreigners, a repatriation of asylum seekers if they are convicted of a felony and an elimination of the protection of refugees on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. Moreover, by entangling the sphere of national security and immigration, the legislation also focuses on increased funding for the police and allowing them the use of Taser stun guns. Numerous human rights organisations and international bodies, such as the United Nations, have been quick to criticise the human rights violations within this document. Nonetheless, Salvini has maintained that the decree is necessary as a ‘step forward to make Italy safer’.
Whilst multiple aspects of the decree are controversial, a focus on the removal of ‘humanitarian’ protection to migrants clearly demonstrates the significant effects of these laws on the migrant community within Italy. Granting a refugee a status of ‘humanitarian’ protection could be done on the basis that the migrant was fleeing his country of origin due to oppression infringing upon his human rights, such as discrimination based on sexuality. This allowed for the legal integration of refugees into Italy who could not be granted asylum on the traditional grounds of leaving a state of war or being politically persecuted. This status entailed recognition from the Italian state for two years, allowing the migrant to obtain a residency and work permit on national soil. Statistics demonstrate that in 2017, 25% of all migrants in Italy gained asylum seeker status due to the legislation surrounding ‘humanitarian’ protection. By retracting this law, the isolation of thousands of migrants by the Italian state is enforced.
Evidence of the negative impact of the ‘Salvini’ decree upon migrant communities in Italy has already been resounding, with the present and future of many refugees left undermined. Currently, a section of the decree stating that refugees under ‘humanitarian’ protection can no longer benefit from networks of integration programs, places numerous migrants at risk of not meeting their basic needs. These networks, known as SPRAR in Italy, are integral to the lives of refugees as they fulfil the migrants’ entitlement to food and housing. However, as the ‘Salvini’ decree constrains whom the SPRAR can accommodate, dozens of migrants have been evicted from these welcome centres and are threatened with becoming homeless.
This reality demonstrates a lack of state support that leaves already vulnerable refugees unprotected and has consequences even more dire than the immediate housing crisis. The migrants arriving to Italy who would have previously fallen under ‘humanitarian’ protection will now lack the proper documentation and legal status that would have allowed them access to employment and social benefits. Due to this, experts predict a rise in the amount of migrants that will be working within the illegal sector. Specific focus has also been placed on how the most unprotected groups of migrants will be affected by this legislation; for example, the future of migrant children and teenagers could be in peril, as a non-compliance with citizenship or asylum protection laws could result in their eviction from Italy once they reach 18 years of age. Thus, critics of Salvini’s decree warn of the creation of a new problem within the migrant crisis: the increase of a significant community of undocumented and unregulated migrants within Italy.
The ‘Salvini’ decree can be seen as the child of the ant-immigration commentary at the forefront of Italian politics in recent years. Populist and far-right parties, such as the Lega, have in many ways made this xenophobic and racist dialogue acceptable. The implications of this on the violation of human rights for migrants is more far-reaching than simply in the legal realm. Socially, it has emboldened hate against migrants, specifically those of African and Roma descent. The effects of are evidenced in the rise of hate crimes within Italy, with 169 racially motivated attacks being recorded since the 2018 elections. Politically, it has allowed for Prime Minster Conte to alienate himself from international policies referencing the human rights of migrants. This has recently seen the boycott of Italy in attending a United Nations meeting concerning the upholding of the UN Global Compact for Migration. Overall, the isolation of migrants created within Italy has allowed for severe national and international repercussions on the refugee community.
As the ‘Salvini’ decree comes into being, a violent outcome of the ‘othering’ of migrants within Italy is made tangible. In order to grant migrants within Italy the human rights they deserve, it is important to first address the underlying anti-immigration sentiment that allowed for such a legislation to pass in the first place and such a government to take the reins of Italy.