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LA STAMPA

Italy's Echos Of Fascism As Immigrants Blamed For Disease, Rape

At the epicenter of Europe’s migrant crisis, Italy is facing a new burst of blatant racism that comes with a whiff of fascist nostalgia from the country’s ugly past.

A Forza Nuova rally in Rome in June
A Forza Nuova rally in Rome in June

A tragic story filled Italian newspapers earlier this week: a four-year-old girl from northern Italy died of malaria. Doctors had noted that the disease is rarely found in Italy, and the family had not traveled abroad. The next day a pair of conservative newspapers claimed they'd solved the mystery: "Immigrants' were responsible for the girl's fatal illness. "After Poverty, They Bring Disease" the Milan-based daily Libero splashed in its front-page headline Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Rome-based Il Tempo"s lead story was titled "So Here Is The Malaria of Immigrants."

The headlines are evidently what we all now have begun to call Fake News. But they also evoke racist tropes that trace back to Italy's fascist past where Jews and other so-called "outsiders' were accused of lacking hygiene and bearing exotic disease.

Today, the target of far-right hatred is immigrants, as Italy faces a decade-long influx of arrivals crossing by sea from North Africa to arrive on European soil. Though often the ultimate destinations are points farther north, the number of immigrants in Italy has more than doubled since 2007, according to the Italian statistics bureau ISTAT.

The newspaper headlines are not the only throwback to the worst chapter of Italian history. Following a high-profile gang rape last month of a Polish tourist in the eastern city of Rimini, in which several immigrant teenagers were arrested, the neo-fascist party Forza Nuova began circulating a new 1920s vintage-style poster around Italy that featured a dark-skinned man attacking a white woman. "Defend her from the invaders," the poster reads. "It could be your mother, wife, sister, daughter."

La Stampa reports that an anti-racism NGO called the poster a "blatant incitement to racial hatred." Leftist member of Parliament Giuseppe Civati called it a "shameful" reference to the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini.

Forza Nuova, a long-established but largely fringe party, does not seem deterred, and in fact is eager to capitalize on the rising worries about immigration. The weekly L'Espresso reported that the party this week announced plans for a rally in Rome on October 28 to mark the 95th anniversary of the Mussolini-led "March on Rome" that ushered in two decades of fascist rule. Italy again reminds us that even when the past is dead, it may not be buried.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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