Italy’s first black minister fears far-right party’s government influence

The Guardian | Published: Fri 18 May 2018

Cécile Kyenge, who is now an MEP, speaks out after the League agrees a power-sharing deal with M5S


Cécile Kyenge, pictured in 2013, said: ‘It is very difficult for me to see that a party that accepts it is racist is going to manage law.’ Photograph: Massimiliano Schiazza/EPA

 

Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome and Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

 

Italy’s first black cabinet minister has expressed deep concerns about the entry into Italy’s government of the League, as the far-right party and the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) revealed plans for more detention centres to be built across the country.

Cécile Kyenge, who has been a regular target of racial abuse, said the League’s position as a coalition partner in the incoming government made her less hopeful about the possibility of Italy passing immigration reforms or other changes that would ease a path to citizenship for thousands of undocumented minors.

 

“Many members of the League accept that they are racists,” she told the Guardian. “It is very difficult for me to see that a party that accepts it is racist is going to manage law, which is supposed to protect all the community.”

On Friday the League – a secessionist party previously known as the Northern League – and the Five Star Movement unveiled a power -sharing agreement for a new populist government. The deal calls for changes to fiscal policy and a €780 (£680) monthly basic income for poor families.

It also spells out a new crackdown on immigration, including a “serious and efficient” programme to drive out migrants who arrive in Italy illegally. The plan calls for more detention centres to be opened in every region, in which migrants could be held for up to 18 months.

The agreement calls for an overhaul of the Dublin treaty, so that asylum seekers would be distributed across the EU instead of being required to stay in the country where they first arrive, and it calls for religious leaders to be registered with the state. All camps of “unregistered” Roma would be shut down under the plan.

Italy’s general election on 4 March resulted in a hung parliament. Matteo Salvini, the head of the League, and the Five Star Movement’s Luigi di Maio have been locked in negotiations for weeks to agree on a common set of governing goals. The pair have still not agreed on who should serve as prime minister.

 

Matteo Salvini
 The League’s leader, Matteo Salvini, addressing the media at the Quirinale Palace in Rome this week. Photograph: Riccardo Antimiani/EPA

 

The new government’s platform is expected to be approved by M5S members late on Friday in an online poll. On Monday, Di Maio and Salvini are expected to meet Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, to formalise the launch of the government. Once a prime minister has been nominated and ministers sworn in, the government will face a vote of confidence in the parliament.

Both parties ran campaigns that vilified migrants, and Salvini has attacked Italy’s Roma population throughout his political career. It is not clear whether Italy has the legal right or resources to follow through on some of the radical ideas that were agreed, but the League vowed during the electoral campaign to institute mass deportations of asylum seekers to Africa as part of a reshaping of migration policies.

Immigration experts said the new agreement meant programmes seeking to integrate new migrants could be closed. “They campaign against any positive actions or programmes, which are the very basis for any minority. This keeps them in a structurally backward position,” said Francesco Palermo, a former senator who was a vocal proponent of Romany rights in Italy. “It is more populist than racist, they feel this is what the voters want, and unfortunately average Italian society is against Roma, against migrants, against sexual minorities.”

Kyenge, who now serves as an MEP, has worked for years to try to change Italy’s citizenship laws so that children of migrants can be recognised as Italians. Last year the government failed to pass a law that would have eased the path to citizenship for 800,000 minors who were born in Italy or came as young children.

Kyenge said these children were unable to fully participate in schools and in society. “The identity of a person begins when you are little and it is then you must have an opportunity to say ‘I am an Italian’.”

The Congolese-born doctor has lived in Italy since 1983, and has been on the receiving end of deeply offensive racist slurs. Roberto Calderoli, a senator and former minister under Silvio Berlusconi, likened her to an orangutan and told her she should be a minister “in her country”.

Mario Borghezio, a far-right MEP, said Kyenge would impose a “bongo-bongo” administration on Italy – comments that led to him being expelled from a Ukip-led group in the European parliament. In 2017 a judge ordered him to pay €50,000 to Kyenge for his racist remarks.

Kyenge still has bodyguards to protect her when she is in her home country, as a result of racist abuse from politicians. “People want to attack me because of the colour of my skin and many of those are politicians and it is very sad because politicians should give an example,” she said.

 

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