Are hate crimes on the rise in Italy?

Are hate crimes on the rise in Italy?
Copyright  A protester raises her hands painted red during a protest against the Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini in front of the Interior Minister building in Rome, Italy July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
By Lillo Montalto Monella

In the past two months, there have been 33 alleged cases of racially targeted hate crimes in the country, compared to just 28 in 2016.

Italy may be facing a rise in racial hate crimes, according to unofficial data collected by rank-and-file groups in the country.

In the past two months there have been 33 alleged cases of racially targeted hate crimes in the country, according to a map compiled by an Italian journalist, showing a string of alleged hate crimes that garnered regional or national attention in the country.

Stories from physical aggression to knife attacks to homicides are documented on the map. Eight of these incidents involved the use of pellet guns against ethnic minorities. Authorities have said that they are also investigating potential copycat attacks.

Opposition MPs say the timing of alleged hate crimes line up with the inauguration of the current coalition government on June 1 and its populist home minister Matteo Salvini — famed for his fiery tongue and firm stance on closing its borders to incoming refugees.

If all these incidents are confirmed to be racially motivated by investigative authorities, that would make 33 assaults in only two months: a stark contrast to official government numbers showing Italy had 28 racially-motivated physical assaults in all of 2016 (latest available data).

These 33 episodes have made headlines in the last two months, but there is speculation more incidents have occurred but have gone unreported.

Lacking an official database on hate crimes, Italian NGO Lunaria and its watchdog unit, Cronache di Ordinario Razzismo, reported a total of 557 violent, racially-motivated incidents in 2017. From January to March 2018, that figure was 169.

The latest case of alleged race-related crimes was of athlete Daisy Osakue, who said she was egged in the face by a drive-by perpetrator near Turin whilst walking down the street. The attack left her with an injured cornea.

"They did it on purpose," Osakue, 22, told Italian news agency ANSA.

"They didn't want to hit me as Daisy, they wanted to hit me as a young woman of colour. There are several prostitutes in that area and they will have mistook me for one of them.

"I have been the victim of episodes of racism before, but only verbal ones," she said.

However, the Turin prosecutor says the crime is not being investigated as a racist attack.

No official government data

So far, Italy does not have an official database for hate crimes; nor does it have an independent monitoring body. However, official and unofficial reports show a worrying picture that Italy may be facing a rise in hate-related crimes.

In 2016, the European Commission against Racism and Intollerance (ECRI) urged Italy to set in place, without delay, a method of collecting data on incidents related to hate speech and ensure the independence of its monitoring institutes.

The Observatory for Security against Discriminatory Acts (OSCAD) collects reports of these crimes together with the National Office against Racial Discrimination (UNAR), but they are both housed within the Interior Ministry and the Presidency of the Council of Ministers.

A spokesperson at OSCE, however, points out that "the sharp increase in the numbers reported is based on improvements on the recording of hate crimes by the authorities in Italy. As such, it does not necessarily mean that there has been an increase in the number of crimes, but rather in the way they are addressed and reported".

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