Social media dialogue and reader comments on news stories suggest that the far-right's xenophobic rhetoric resonates for immigrants.
Italy's anti-migrant League party received 34% of the national vote in May's elections for the European Parliament, becoming Italy's top party. Its leader, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, has recently approved a new security decree that brings in hefty fines, of up to 50,000 euros, to NGO rescue boats that bring migrants to Italy without permission.
In this piece for Turin-based La Stampa, Karima Moual shows how the League is winning ground even among migrants themselves, some of whom resent the center-left Democratic Party (PD), which never followed through on promises to pass a law to give Italian citizenship to children born in Italy to foreign parents.
ROME — "Can't find a house to rent? There are reasons for that. In recent years, we haven't distinguished ourselves for our best behavior," writes a Moroccan man. Another one comments: "Italians aren't racist. It's just that some foreigners act like degenerates, and so Italians are pushed to defend themselves." And a third one adds: "Some of our fellow countrymen here pretend to be poor, but when they return to their country, they lack for nothing. Because of a few, we all pass off as very poor ... Why?"
These are just some of the comments posted below recent news stories in Italy. What is striking is that they are made by foreign-born citizens. Looking at their profiles on social networks, you can see that it's both men and women sharing these kinds of opinions, and they belong to different age groups.
Few show a good command of Italian — they prefer to communicate among themselves in their original language. But this doesn't mean that they are not well integrated. On the contrary: They often work and have families. And they proudly show how fulfilled they feel in Italy.
There is the story of Samira, originally from Tunisia, 35 years old, well integrated, with a job as a saleswoman in a shoe store. She vents in a lengthy Facebook post, recalling the long ordeal that she, as a foreigner, had to go through to find an apartment to rent. Surprise: Instead of finding solidarity, her post got flooded by an avalanche of comments that justify the discrimination she is suffering. Most users share the same idea: "If they don't give you the apartment, it's because there are "bad apples' in our community."
They proudly show how fulfilled they feel in Italy.
Mohamed, 54, comes from Morocco and has lived in Italy with his family for 20 years now. He is a hard worker and has strong opinions. "Italians act like that because so many of our people are opportunists," he writes. "I personally know several people like that and I'm ashamed of them. They ruined our reputation. They are the ones who prefer to live in poverty, scrounge to set aside money to send to their country. This isn't good. And honestly I understand the defense instinct that leads many Italians to sympathize with the League. I would do it too."
Next to the many successful integration stories, there are also many stories of intolerance and social vulnerability that migrants share on social networks. You can find them by taking a look at the various Facebook pages of foreign communities that boast thousands of followers. An example is the @magrebini account, which has about 150,000 members. True virtual communities, made up by people that discuss, comment and picture a little-known reality: Among migrants, there are some who prefer the Right to the Left.
But what is happening exactly? There is still no precise data to help explain the phenomenon, though there are many stories out there. Those who have been integrated for a long time now see their path threatened by newcomers, and so look at them with suspicion and fear. "There is no place for everyone," says Fouad, 55, who left Morocco when he was 25 and is now a proud business owner.
"We arrived many years ago. We struggled very much to integrate ourselves and be respected in this country," he goes on to say. "Seeing that today we are put on the same level as newcomers, who have little desire to integrate and work, puts us in a difficult position. This is why I agree in setting limits to entry into Italy. Those who have been here for a while already have many difficulties. Adding other people means destroying the Italian/foreigner cohabitation relationship."
"I'll tell you one thing," says Nora, 40, a Tunisian mother of two daughters born in Italy from a mixed marriage. "I don't find the Right's stand on Islam scandalous at all. On the contrary, I very much agree. I am well aware of the conservative and extremist ideology of my faith. Leaving space to anyone in the name of religious freedom is very dangerous. I am here with my daughters and I would like to live in freedom, without misogynistic discrimination. I find the control and condemnation of some customs just right."
Adding other people means destroying the Italian/foreigner cohabitation relationship.
What about people who where were born in Italy to foreign parents? They've long been coddled by the Left on integration issues. The Left that promised to crown them as "new Italians' with the approval of a new law on citizenship, but then failed to follow through. Little wonder that the enthusiasm of the new generations diminished. Many felt betrayed, if not worse.
"We have been used and then thrown out after the elections," explains Marwan (not his real name), a university student who has lived in Italy since he was three years old. "We have been used only to seek consensus," he says with some bitterness. "This is the lesson that I and many others have learned: When the Left could change our lives with a law, it didn't. It proved to be the most hypocritical of all parties. Today I don't have citizenship, but in a few years I will have it. And I will not forget who betrayed their promises."