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Immigration, race flashpoints in Italian election

A drive-by shooting of migrants has turned into a major campaign issue

An anti-fascism rally Saturday in Macerata, Italy Associated Press/Photo by Antonio Calanni

Immigration, race flashpoints in Italian election

A drive-by shooting targeting African migrants in Italy has fueled a nationwide debate about immigration and race ahead of the country’s general election on March 4.

In a retaliatory attack, 28-year-old Luca Traini on Feb. 3 shot six people from Africa in the streets of Macerata. Days before, authorities arrested a Nigerian immigrant accused of killing and dismembering an 18-year-old Italian woman.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants have traveled across the Mediterranean Sea from war-torn Libya into Italy. Former Italian Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi called Traini insane but said the 600,000 illegal migrants in Italy are “tantamount to a social bomb ready to explode because they live by the expedient of committing crimes.”

Berlusconi does not qualify to run for office in the upcoming election because of a tax fraud conviction, but he is still campaigning for his Forza Italia party to form a coalition with two far-right parties, the League and Brothers of Italy.

Opponents, including the ruling, center-left Democratic Party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, blamed the crisis on a European Union refugee pact Berlusconi signed in 2003. “Berlusconi is responsible for the social bomb that is immigration,” said Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement. “It is out of control because of him and because of the center-left.”

Thousands of anti-fascist demonstrators on Saturday crowded the streets of Macerata in response to the growing tension. “If there’s unemployment, blame the government, not the migrants,” protesters chanted. Gennaba Diop, a 23-year-old woman of Senegalese descent, held a sign that read, “My color is not a crime.”

“There’s a lot of tension and racism here, people look at you strangely all the time,” she told Agence France-Presse. “It’s not true that everyone is integrated.”

As the debate continues, migrants suffer in inhumane conditions. International aid group Doctors without Borders (MSF) on Thursday said about 10,000 migrants live without shelter, food, water, and healthcare because of Italy’s inadequate reception policies. “Instead of long-term policies that respond to the basic needs of the relatively manageable number of people now living in inhumane conditions, we increasingly witness the criminalization of migrants and refugees and those who help them with their basic needs,” said Tommaso Fabbri, head of the MSF project in Italy.

Stefano Torelli, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the current crisis and political climate could worsen the plight of migrants in Italy. “There is a growing sense of racism and intolerance toward the foreigners, especially from Africa, who are perceived as people staying in Italy without the right to stay here,” Torelli said. “Personally, I don’t remember such a climate of hate and intolerance over the last decades.”

An Iranian asylum seeker in a church in Berlin in August 2015

An Iranian asylum seeker in a church in Berlin in August 2015 Associated Press/Photo by Gero Breloer

Germany reports nearly 100 hate crimes against Christians

Approximately 97 anti-Christian hate crimes were committed in Germany from January to November 2017, according to data leaked to a German media group months ahead of the official release, Deutsche Welle reported.

Fourteen of the violent incidents happened among asylum seekers and refugees, including a Muslim refugee’s murder of a Christian convert in Prien, Bavaria. The Federal Criminal Police Office told the German public broadcaster the figures were preliminary and could be adjusted.

Open Doors Germany spokesman Ado Greve said the attacks on Christians were definitely religiously motivated.

“The victims told us that the attackers would say things like, ‘I’ll cut off your head, you nonbeliever,’ ‘You’re contaminating the kitchen,’ or ‘You’re defiling the fridge.’ In other words, the perpetrators said themselves why they were doing it,” Greve told Deutsche Welle.

German officials called the data alarming. Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann of the Christian Social Union Party told the Funke Media Group, “Anyone who wants to live here must distance themselves from any anti-Christian disposition.”

Interior policy spokesman Ansgar Heveling, a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, said the state needs to protect Christian institutions and punish attacks “toughly and consistently.” —Julia A. Seymour

An Iranian asylum seeker in a church in Berlin in August 2015

An Iranian asylum seeker in a church in Berlin in August 2015 Associated Press/Photo by Gero Breloer

Israel-Syria conflict escalates

Clashes involving Israel, Syria, and Iran took a deadly turn over the weekend following a series of cross-border strikes. Israel on Saturday said it intercepted an Iranian drone that entered its airspace from Syria. The Israeli military then attacked the Syrian air base near Palmyra, from where Iran launched the drone. The moves triggered several attacks from both sides that crashed an Israeli fighter jet and hit eight Syrian targets. Military clashes have intensified in recent weeks as Israel worries Lebanon’s Hezbollah, an Islamist political party, and Iran are gaining a foothold in neighboring Syria. Syria last week accused Israel of targeting one of its military posts near the capital city of Damascus. On Jan. 9, the Israeli army carried out similar airstrikes in the Qutayfeh area against the Syrian army and Hezbollah weapons depots. Former Syrian lawmaker Sharif Shehade said Syria’s shooting down the aircraft marks a political decision to respond to Israeli strikes. He said the clashes will continue to escalate unless the United States and Russia, which backs the Syrian government, intervene. —O.O.

South Sudan liberates child soldiers

Armed groups in South Sudan freed more than 300 child soldiers in the second-largest release since the start of the country’s civil war in 2013. The United Nations said the “laying down of guns” ceremony involved 87 girls and 224 boys, and it expects the release of a total of 700 child soldiers in the coming weeks. South Sudanese First Vice President Taban Deng Gai called the move a sign of peace. But in a report released last week, Human Rights Watch said the commanders from government forces and rebel groups continue to recruit children. “There’s a chance to reverse the tide if the region follows through on its promise to impose sanctions on individual violators of human rights,” said Mausi Segun, Human Rights Watch Africa director. —O.O..

Egypt clears out militants

The Egyptian military on Friday launched a major operation against Islamic militants in the country, weeks before a deadline to crush an insurgency. On Nov. 29, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gave the military three months to defeat Islamic State (ISIS) after a mosque attack killed close to 300 people. The security operation comes ahead of March elections, in which al-Sisi will run for a second term. Army spokesman Col. Tamer el-Rifai said the army and police forces will carry out the offensive in the restive Sinai Peninsula, where an ISIS affiliate has repeatedly targeted Coptic Christians and the minority Sufi Muslim sect. The operation will also include the Nile Delta and the Western Desert. El-Rifai on Sunday said security forces killed at least 16 militants and arrested more than 30 others since the operation began. —O.O.

Sword-wielding man attacks Indonesian church

A sword-wielding man injured at least four people when he launched an attack during Sunday Mass at a Catholic church in Indonesia. Local media reported the assailant slashed the statues of Jesus and Mary and attacked the 81-year-old Rev. Karl Edmund Prier at St. Lidwina Catholic Church in Yogyakarta. The attacker also injured two other churchgoers and a police official. Police said the assailant, who was shot in the stomach, is recovering in a hospital. Indonesian police did not confirm the reason behind the attack, but counterterrorism investigators took over the case. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter and deputy global desk chief. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.


These summarize the news that I could never assemble or discover by myself. —Keith

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