Italy elected a Black man as its senator this week, but even more attention-grabbing is that Toni Iwobi, a Nigerian immigrant, is a member of a right-wing party known for anti-immigration rhetoric.
Iwobi spoke his mind about being part of the right-wing Lega (League) party, whose speech against illegal immigration helped him to secure victory Sunday night.
“I want to stress that the League isn’t against immigration as such – nobody in this world can stop people moving, it’s in the human DNA,” Iwobi, who was appointed head of the League’s immigration and security committee in 2015, told The Guardian. “But we are against illegal immigration.”
Iwobi, 62, originally came from Nigeria and won a seat in Spirano, a small town in the Lombardy province of Bergamo, Italy. He campaigned under the party slogan, “Stop the invasion,” saying that he and the League are pushing for legal migration.
“Anybody running away from a country because of conflict and war has to be hosted,” Iwobi, who came to Italy in the late 1970s on a student visa and became a councilor for the League in 1995, explained. “But anybody leaving their country for the wrong reason and travelling to others in the wrong way has to be stopped. Immigration shouldn’t cost thousands of lives at sea and neither should it cost a cent to the host country.”
The league, which has a noticeable influence in Italy, has several goals: making it easier to deport migrants deemed to be in the country illegally, refusing to accept those without documents arriving on charity rescue ships, and developing EU-wide economic aid projects with countries of origin to stop people coming.
League members have used tough speech to target these goals. League leader, Matteo Salvini, who appointed Iwobi, called for a “mass cleaning” to rid Italy of people in the country illegally. Also, Iwobi’s party colleague Attilio Fontana, the new governor of Lombardy, said during his election campaign that Italy’s migrant influx threatened to wipe out “our white race,” The Guardian reported. There are an estimated 600,000 people who have landed on Italy’s south shores within the last four years, with the highest number of asylum requests from Nigerians.
Iwobi, however, described the League as having policies that “are intended to bring peace and order to the nation.”
The league’s relationship with people in Italy seems to be deep and complicated. Hundreds of African immigrants and Italians protested in Florence, Italy, chanted “no more racism” and criticized the League for “stoking racial tensions” after an Italian man shot dead a Senegalese street vendor recently, UK’s The Independent reported.
Italian politicians, especially those from the League, regularly portrayed migrants as criminals and called for mass deportations during the country’s parliamentary election, the news outlet reported.
Iwobi has denounced claims of racism within the League to Italian, The Independent said.