Former Immigration Minister of Italy Accuses the Northern League of Racism

Former Immigration Minister Cecile Kyenge gives a speech at the European University Institute in 2013. (European University Institute, flickr)

Former Immigration Minister Cecile Kyenge gives a speech at the European University Institute in 2013. (European University Institute, flickr)

Political leaders from the U.K., Germany, Hungary, Sweden, France, and Belgium issued statements of support for Italy’s former immigration minister, Cecile Kyenge, who accused far-right political leader Matteo Salvini and the Italian League Party of racism. According to a letter published by the Guardian on October 12, a Piacenza court agreed to bring the case to trial.

Forty officials from across Europe are supporting Kyenge, who accused the far-right leader of the Northern League Party (LN), Matteo Salvini, of racism in 2014, according to EURACTIV. An Italian court agreed to allow the LN to open a case of defamation against Kyenge, who is now a member of the European Parliament in the Socialist and Democrat Group.

Kyenge was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo but has lived in Italy since 1993. As the first minister of African descent to serve in the government, she has faced a significant amount of racial discrimination. In particular, she has suffered abuse from the LN and its officials.

Kyenge accused the LN of being racist after Pablo Rainieri, the party secretary in the Emilia-Romagna region, posted a picture of Kyenge depicting her as an orangutan. Roberto Calderoli, a senator for the League, made a similar offense when he said, “I cannot but think of the features of an orangutan” at a party rally, referring to the photograph. She will now face trial for defamation in the northern city of Piacenza following her accusation. Because Kyenge is a member of the European Parliament, she is entitled to immunity. However, she waived this right in order to bring cases against a series of League officials.

Recently, the rise of immigration in Italy has initiated more public discussion of racism in Italian political discourse. During a meeting of European Union ministers concerning migration and security in September 2018, Salvini described African immigrants in Italy as “slaves.”

Salvini recently pushed the Decree Law on Immigration and Security to abolish humanitarian protection status for migrants, the Independent reports. The law will also make it much easier for Italian migrants to lose their citizenship, according to the Local.

The decree has already been used to force asylum seekers out of reception centers. The Local reports that on November 13, police evicted 150 people from a center for migrants without shelter. 120 people were taken to Rome’s police stations and immigration offices. The others were released after showing documentation.

Following the implementation of the Decree, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte separated Italy from the UN’s pact facilitating the process of migration, reports the Local. Conte clarified that Italy is undergoing changes that will cause hardships for migrants trying to integrate into society. Kyenge will face trial in this atmosphere of exclusion and racism.