Di African-Italians wey wan send migrants home

  • By Dickens Olewe and Helen Grady
  • BBC News, Italy
Tony Iwobi standing next to Salvini t-shirt
Wetin we call dis foto,

Senator Iwobi na strong supporter of The League's Matteo Salvini

Tony Iwobi beams as im stand next to pishure of Giuseppe Garibaldi for di Senate building for Rome. Like di 19th Century general, wey help find modern Italy, pipo don call oga Iwobi "history maker". Im be Italy first and only black senator.

Iwobi confess say im feel "like pikin on di first day for school" when im take e seat alongside di other 320 senators. Im say im get duty, not only to his Italian constituents, but also to di continent wia dem born and raise am: "Anytin I do today, I no dey do am for myself, but for di nation I represent and for di African black race!"

Dem elect am last year as part of support for right-wing Lega (League) party, wey form year-long coalition wit the populist Five Star Movement. Now out of power, di League na still Italy most popular party with 33% for di latest polls. Dem dey popular for dia tough stance on migration.

Critics say dem dey use Iwobi wey be di party immigration spokesman as cover for dia "racist views". Dem point to one incident for 2013 when one Lega senator refer to Italy first black minister, Cecile Kyenge, as "orang-utan".

Mr Iwobi admit his colleague bin dey "wrong" but reject di allegation wey say di party dey use am: "Make dem go search my story," im tok. "Nobody dey use me. I tink wit my own brain."

'I stand with Salvini'

Di Nigerian immigrant arrive Italy on student visa for 1977. Im plan before na to return home afta im studies, but tins change afta im mit Italian woman, wey become im wife.

Iwobi join im party, den known as di Northern League, for 1993. For 20 years im serve as local councillor for di northern province of Bergamo.

For im office, across di street from di Senate building, hangs a T-shirt wit di slogan "I stand wit Salvini" - a sign of im support for im party leader, Matteo Salvini.

Wen im bin dey goment, Mr Salvini famously turned away migrant boats, leaving hundreds stranded for di Mediterranean Sea last summer. But Mr Iwobi insists di League no be anti-immigration.

"We stand for legal migration. Anybody wey come through di right channel legally dey highly welcomed. We dey for refugees, but we dey against illegal immigration and death tunnel," na so Iwobi tok, as im dey refer to di thousands of immigrants wey don die as dem dey try to reach Europe. "E dey against human dignity."

Like im party leader, Iwobi see di arrival of plenti African migrants, wey dey cross di desert and sea to land for Italy, as di result of failed migration policy.

'Make Africa great'

His view dey shared by anoda black Italian, Paolo Diop. Now 30, Diop land for Italy from Senegal wen e dey two years.

Wetin we call dis foto,

Mr Diop (C) say African migrants should return to the continent

Diop na immigration spokesman for far-right party Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy), wey get roots for Italy old fascist movement.

"I be di son of immigrants wey arrive Italy legally at a time wen Italy economy bin dey grow. Now no dey grow, so we no fit welcome economic migrants any longer."

Mr Diop say im neva experience discrimination, but for February 2018, for Macerata, di town wia im dey live, fellow right-wing activist Luca Traini shoot and wunjure six African migrants.

Wia dis foto come from, Reuters

Wetin we call dis foto,

Di shooting lead to anti-racist protests for Macerata

Mr Diop bin know Traini, wey currently dey serve 12-year jail term.

"We bin dey di same political circles. Na good pesin im bin be. I no ever get any problems wit am. I no go ever want to inspire someone wey carry out such acts.

Diop say African migrants for Italy need to learn trade den go home and "make Africa great".

But so far di message no dey get through.

'Terrible year'

Wetin we call dis foto,

Tommy Kuti says white Italians tink say every black pesin na migrant

Musician Tommy Kuti believe right-politicians dey exploit scenes like this. "Dem like that situation of chaos," im tok, "to scare Italian pipo and make am right for dem to push discriminatory laws."

Like Senator Iwobi, dem born Kuti for Nigeria - im move go Italy with im parents wen im small. Now a successful rapper, im music explores identity and politics and dey criticise di League.

"I tink Toni Iwobi na something wey dey really work against migrants for Italy for time wen we need pipo to fight for us to get us more rights."

Kuti tink say white Italians believe "every black pesin na migrant".

'Citizenship by blood not soil'

For Angelica Pesarini, di roots of attitudes to race for Italy dey deep. She dey teach course for Black Italia for New York University in Florence.

"Italy colonial past - especially di fascist regime - don always dey very connected to ideas of race and whiteness and dis still dey visible nowadays. Becos to be Italian is to be white," she explains.

Though born in Italy, Dr Pesarini's family come from Eritrea and Somalia, connection wey go back to Italy colonial adventure for di Horn of Africa.

Wetin we call dis foto,

Dr Pesarini say Italy citizenship laws na legacy of colonial views

Pipo from Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea grow up learning Italian and absorbing di culture. Those wey move go Italy shock to discover how little Italians know about dem. And even today, many Italians dey ignorant about dia kontri colonial past, na so Dr Pesarini tok.

"I feel I gats to justify my Italian-ness a lot... People assume I no fit be Italian. And so even wen pipo ask me: ''Wia you I come from?' I go say: 'from Rome'. Den dem go ask: 'No, but wia I really come from?' I den realise how race and colonialism and whiteness dey connected to Italian identity today."

Voluntary repatriation to Africa

Activists want di goment to make am easier for second-generation immigrants, those born and raised in Italy, to claim Italian citizenship. Dia biggest opponents na Paolo Diop Brothers of Italy and Senator Iwobi party, di League.

Mr Iwobi dismisses activists' concerns, as im claim say those wey dem den Italian citizenship no follow di regulations.

As for those illegal immigrants wey still dey live for Italy, Senator Iwobi want di goment to help dem gain new skills to allow for wetin im call "voluntary repatriation".

Rapper Tommy Kuti no agree wit di senator's ideas: "I tink if im want migrants to stay in Africa, make im set good example and take e ass back to Africa."