When the exploited are turned into villains

Matteo Salvini, the Italian interior minister and leader of the party Lega, is not dealing with immigrant exploitation. Instead, he is using damaging rhetoric to scare the public. 

Cinzia Sciuto
Cinzia Sciuto MicroMega, Italy
Source: MicroMega
When the exploited are turned into villains - NewsMavens
Matteo Salvini, Minister of the Interior, WikiCommons

Why this story matters:

A piece of stale bread, a little water and 3 euros an hour: these were all that the black immigrant agricultural workers were offered as they worked for up to twelve hours a day in the Sicilian countryside. Even though July is not yet here, temperatures are already high in Italy. The employers were two of my white countrymen from the province of Trapani, Sicily, who have since been arrested on charges of exploitation of labor.

Soumayla Sacko, who worked in similar conditions in Calabria, was a trade unionist who insisted on defending the rights of workers. He was recently killed (also by my white fellow citizen) when he and his friends went to an old abandoned factory to collect scrap metal to fix the crumbling mansion his friends lived in.

These are the fates that await an overwhelming majority of migrants arriving in Italy. These are “the good times” that will now be over according to the Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

For me, there is no doubt about who are the good and who are the bad guys in this story: there are the exploiters on one side, and the exploited on the other.

And yet, in this new facist discourse everything is reversed -- suddenly the exploited become the villains and are blamed for all the problems of our country while Europe plays dice with their lives.

The story of the Aquarius ship was telling. Salvini used the opportunity to make a statement, leaving the ship with 629 people on board at the mercy of the sea for days, until Spain allowed it to dock. Salvini reacted to this by saying: "Finally the Germans, the French, the Belgians, the Dutch and even the Spanish are listening to us." He did not, however, mention that -- as reported by the MEP Elly Schlein -- Lega, the party of which Salvini is leader, has never participated in meetings in the European Parliament about amendments to the Dublin Regulation. Obviously it’s much easier to launch hashtags than to solve problems. And it is also much easier, but also very cowardly, to exploit the weak.

If there is someone in Italy for whom illegal immigration is "the good times", it’s not the migrants, but rather the sick economy dominated by the mafias and built on desperation.

But of course it is infinitely easier to make a big deal about a few hundred desperate people on a ship in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea rather than dealing with the exploitation of immigrants.

The most worrying thing about this situation is that these roaring announcements, which we hear almost daily (and which will hopefully be countered by facts), poison the public debate. They force opponents into a corner from which they can only try to resist these declarations and attempt to safeguard their humanity. The announcements also make it nearly impossible for the public to think clearly about the issues that are critical for Europe at the moment, like immigration.

Details from the story:

  • On June 13, the 39 year old Mali immigrant Soumayla Sacko was killed in Vibo Valentia. He was an agricultural worker and trade unionist.
  • 43 year old Italian Antonio Pontoriero is being investigated for the murder. Antonio Pontoriero is a relative of one of the owners of the factory where Sacko was killed.
  • The new Italian government has been in power for less than a month –- it was formed by the coalition between the right wing xenophobic party Lega and the populist and post-ideological 5 Star Movement.
  • One of the first decisions of the new Minister of Interior Matteo Salvini, the leader of Lega, was to prevent the docking of the Aquarius ship, run by the NGO SOS Méditerranée, with 629 migrants on board.
  • All search and rescue operations at sea, including those involving NGOs, are coordinated by the Coast Guard of the Italian Navy.
  • One of Salvini’s latest ideas is to carry out a census of all Roma people living in Italy.
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