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‘Will they send me back to Africa?’ – child’s fear of Italy’s far-right League

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‘Will they send me back to Africa?’ – child’s fear of Italy’s far-right League

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As of Tuesday morning, Gabriella Nobile can no longer use Facebook or Messenger. She has been accused of stirring up racial hatred and her accounts have been blocked.

The 49-year-old businesswoman from Milan is the adoptive mother of “two beautiful African children”. The eldest is 12 years old and from Congo; he was adopted when he was two. The girl is seven and from Ethiopia; she was adopted when she was one.

Gabriella’s ill-fated Facebook post came in the wake of a rally last Saturday held by Matteo Salvini in the northern Italian city. The 44-year-old has pulled The League – or Lega – away from its original aim to secure independence for the wealthy north. It has dropped the word “Northern” from its name and now focuses on euro-scepticism – and on opposing immigration.

Gabriella says Facebook told her that her initial post was removed because of her use of the N-word in her open letter to Salvini. She argues she was only quoting the insults her children have increasingly suffered in recent months. She wanted to denounce the climate of intolerance.

'Will I be sent back to Africa?'

“I wanted to thank you,” she wrote, “because you are giving my children some truly extraordinary moments of terror. Before going to bed, my seven-year-old daughter asks me: ‘If he wins, will I be sent back to Africa?’, and then she cries desperately. My son takes the bus to go to football training almost every day, and over the last couple of months he has been insulted even more than before.”

Gabriella tells Salvini that the comments made to her 12-year-old – “go back to your country, you come here just to steal and kill our women” – are “a clear demonstration of how this country – thanks to people like you – is slowly slipping into the abyss”.

The post received tens of thousands of likes, shares and comments within a few hours and caught the eye of the media. On Sunday, it was deleted from her news feed and from those who had shared it. When Gabriella republished the post, her accounts were blocked and she could not answer.

Gabriella told Euronews that she had been accused by Facebook of "fomenting racial hatred," yet before her post was taken down she says she received hundreds of messages of solidarity from people who claimed to have suffered the same experiences.

Bus incident

Her children, she says, speak Italian with a Milanese accent and are perfectly integrated. They’ve learned to deal with insults and her son has “broad shoulders".

However, she says she decided to write the letter “because in recent months the situation has worsened: first, the insults came only from children of their age, but now it is not like that…My son told me of several incidents when adults bothered him. Once on the bus, he was forced to give up his seat and was told to return to Africa”.

Reuters
The League leader Matteo Salvini speaks during a rally in Milan, February 24, 2018 Reuters

An invitation for coffee

Gabriella accuses Salvini of promoting ignorance with “hypocritical slogans” such as “Italians first”; many Italians, she says, love the country – even those who weren’t born there. “Italian fundamentalists have impoverished this beautiful country by waging war against the poor, immigrants, gay people and refugees.”

Later on Tuesday, Salvini replied via Facebook. He explained that he wanted to remove criminals, illegal immigrants and drug dealers from the country, but absolutely not children. "Indeed, I will work to make adoptions faster and cheaper for thousands of couples who have been waiting for this joy for years," he went on. "Since we both live in Milan, I would be happy to offer you a coffee in the park, while our children play together."

The League has joined an unruly coalition with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia ahead of Italy’s elections on March 4. The last opinion polls taken before a pre-election blackout put the alliance ahead, and with the ex-prime minister ineligible, Salvini has been touted as a potential premier.

He has reinvented himself and his party in a bid to lead a far-right wave into power. Gone are the insults to poorer southern Italians; The League now woos them. Instead, immigrants bear the brunt of his rhetoric.

'Refugee camp'

“We can’t turn Italy into a refugee camp,” Salvini told a recent audience. More than 690,000 migrants, most from sub-Saharan Africa, are reported to have arrived in the country since 2013. The League leader wants to send hundreds of thousands back to their countries of origin, create immigration centres in North Africa and to criminalise undocumented arrivals.

The number of asylum seekers was estimated by Eurostat in 2017 to have fallen slightly – but Italy still had the second highest number in the EU with over 140,000, behind Germany.

Reuters
League supporters at the same rally led by Salvini in Milan, February 24, 2018 Reuters

Salvini blamed this month’s racist gun rampage in Macerata on “an invasion”. After a committed fascist shot six Africans following the murder of a young girl, allegedly by a group of Nigerians, he said it was “clear that out of control immigration…will bring about social conflict”.

Recent fact-checks quoted official institutions in estimating that around half a million people – 0.9 percent of the population – were living in Italy illegally; that overall, immigrants brought in up to 2.8 billion euros more than they cost the state; and that crime rates had fallen by 8.3 percent in 10 years.

Such statistics are not the message Gabriella’s adopted daughter captures from Italian media. “My youngest was frightened by hearing some talk on television, she told me she didn’t want to go to school anymore,” she told Euronews. “The situation during this election campaign became unsustainable, and with my letter, I simply asked people to calm down.”