Posted on May 12, 2014

Migrants Tell Migrants: ‘Don’t Come to Italy’

Julian Miglierini, BBC News, May 9, 2014

“My fellow countrymen, don’t come to Italy, you will starve,” says Jose from Angola, looking straight into the camera.

“This country is in a serious crisis, and it affects migrants too,” says Roshan from Sri Lanka, with a stern face. “To be an illegal migrant in Italy is to face hunger and desperation,” adds Niemel from Pakistan.

They are some of the migrants in Italy who, speaking their own languages, took part in a video published online that got Italy talking this week.

The video was produced as part of the European election campaign of a candidate for the right-wing, anti-immigration Northern League (Lega Nord).

Angelo Ciocca, the candidate, told the BBC that the migrants had willingly participated in the video, but that he had written the messages.

He wants the video to go viral and make its way to the migrants’ countries of origin, to warn them off coming to Italy.

But Mr Ciocca also admits that the video serves another purpose–winning Italian votes.

There has been a surge in the number of migrants reaching Italy’s southern coast in the last few months. Yet the issue of clandestine immigration has been relatively absent from the campaign debate ahead of the European elections.

So a party like the Northern League–often accused in the past of using xenophobic messages to attract votes–is doing all it can to stir interest in the issue and become the voice of Italians concerned about the arrivals.

Its new leader, Matteo Salvini, has called for suspension of the Italian Navy operation that rescues migrants in the Mediterranean. Many migrants sail from North Africa in overcrowded, rickety boats.

Mr Salvini says the rescue operation encourages migrants to come to Italy.

The League needs votes. The party, which came to life in the early 1990s calling for the secession of parts of Northern Italy, has lost support. Much of the protest vote it used to attract has vanished–gone to the new anti-establishment Five Star Movement, led by Beppe Grillo.

And a corruption scandal in the League’s top ranks–which provoked the resignation of its erstwhile powerful leader, Umberto Bossi–damaged its image as an anti-corruption movement.

The latest polls suggest it will get around 5% of the national vote–half what it got in the last European elections.

Observers say the return to the party’s anti-immigration roots could prove a skillful move, reaching some voters who see migrant arrivals as a threat.

But so far the video appears to have had little effect on migrants–this week alone, more than 4,300 men, women and children were rescued in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Italy.