Italy elects its first black senator: Toni Iwobi of the League
Italy has elected the first black senator in its history, it was announced, and he belongs to the anti-immigration League.
Toni Iwobi, of Spirano in Lombardy, announced "with great emotion" on his Facebook page that he had been elected to the senate in Italy's general election.
"After more than 25 years of fighting as part of the League's big family, I'm about to start another great adventure," Iwobi wrote, going on to thank leader Matteo Salvini and his other fellow party members.
"I'm ready, friends," Iwobi said.
Iwobi, 62, was born in Nigeria and came to Italy on a student visa some 40 years ago, before going on to marry an Italian woman and start his own IT company here.
Before running for senator he represented the League as a municipal councillor in Spirano back in the 1990s, and more recently headed Salvini's national committee on immigration.
In that capacity, he helped write the League's anti-migration platform, in which it proposed among other things to make it easier to deport migrants, to use economic incentives to get countries to agree to repatriate their nationals from Italy, to refuse to take in migrants rescued by NGOs from the Mediterranean, to renegotiate EU agreements that oblige Italy to house migrants that arrive here while their application to stay is processed, to threaten withdrawal of the right to seek asylum or benefits if migrants commit a crime or break the rules of the reception centre where they're housed, and to stiffen existing requirements for the children of immigrants applying for citizenship to include a test on Italian "language, culture and traditions"
While his positions may seem surprising given his own experience, Iwobi says that he does not oppose immigrants who – like himself – come to Italy legally and seek to integrate; instead, he says, his problem is with what he calls "the clandestine invasion": people who seek to stay in Italy illegally.
Campaigning with the slogan "Stop Invasion", Iwobi says his concern isn't just for Italians but for migrants, who the League claims it prefers to help "in their own home" rather than in Italy – though its "Italians First" programme contains few proposals for international development aid.
Despite being one of very few black members of the League, whose leader has made many inflammatory remarks about non-Italians and Muslims, Iwobi insists that the party isn't racist. "Racism means thinking yourself better than others, while in the movement I find many firm positions, but also a lot of respect," he told the Corriere della Sera.
He was quick to defend fellow party member Attilio Fontana, who caused outrage during the campaign by saying that immigration to Italy threatened the survival of "our white race".
"Where's the problem," Iwobi asked, claiming that Fontana had simply been referring to Italian "culture".
Fontana went on to win his campaign to become president of Lombardy, Italy's most populous region, by a margin of 20 percent.
Iwobi has certainly received warm words from Salvini, who told Rai News he thought Iwobi "would do more for legal immigrants in one month than Kyenge did in her entire life". He was referring to Cécile Kyenge, Italy's first and only black government minister to date, who served as minister of integration in the previous centre-left government.
One of only a handful of black Italians to occupy a prominent position in national politics, she was subjected to a torrent of racist abuse from members of the public and fellow politicians, including being compared to an orangutan by one of the League's leading senators.
Responding to news of Iwobi's election, Salvini declared: "Racism is only on the left".
Italy's first black senator: my election shows far right is not anti-immigration
Toni Iwobi, originally from Nigeria, says his election for the League shows far right party has no problem with ‘legal migration’
Toni Iwobi: ‘My party is fighting to restore legal immigration.
Italy’s first black senator has said his election for the League has proved that the far-right party, whose anti-immigrant rhetoric helped it to its best ever result on Sunday, has no problem with legal migration.
Campaigning under the party slogan “stop the invasion”, Toni Iwobi, a 62-year-old businessman originally from Nigeria, won his seat in Spirano, a small town in the Lombardy province of Bergamo, as the party took almost 18% of the vote nationwide.
“It’s an incredible honour for me to be Italy’s first black senator,” he told the Guardian.
He shared success in the region with his party colleague Attilio Fontana, the new governor of Lombardy, who at the start of the election campaign said Italy’s migrant influx threatened to wipe out “our white race”.
Iwobi, who owns an IT company, came to Italy in the late 1970s to study in Perugia. He later moved to Spirano, where he said he found the two loves of his life: his Italian wife and the League, then known as the Northern League. He became a councillor for the party in 1995.
Iwobi, a Catholic, argues that people should travel to Italy legally, just like he did. “I came on a student visa,” he said. “During that period over 40 years ago, coming here meant needing a visa. My party is fighting to restore legal immigration.”
The League was the strongest force within a three-party rightwing coalition that won most of the votes in the elections but fell short of the 40% majority required to govern. Horse-trading between parties is now under way to come up with a coalition government.
Iwobi has played an instrumental role in driving the League’s success, having helped to create some of the party’s key policies since being appointed by its leader, Matteo Salvini, as head of its immigration and security committee in 2015.
Party goals include 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.
“Salvini appointing me as the head of immigration shows that he knows exactly what he is doing,” he said.
Angela Giuffridam (THE LOCAL)
A win for anti-immigrant parties
Italy has elected its first black senator, a Nigerian immigrant who is a member of the country’s far-right, anti-immigrant League party. Toni Iwobi, the head of the party’s immigration department, was elected on Sunday (March 4) in Brescia, an industrial city in northern Italy.
His election comes on the heels of a heated campaign period, in which immigration was a top concern for voters. More than 600,000 migrants have arrived on Italian shores in the past four years, stoking up racial tensions and pushing rightwing parties to call for their arrest and deportation. And even though the recent polls left the country with a hung parliament, populist and anti-European parties including the League and the Five Star Movement emerged as the biggest winners.
Iwobi, 62, came to Italy in the 1970s on a student visa, got married to his Italian wife and became a councilor for the party in 1995. Iwobi said that he wasn’t against immigration but that he wanted people to travel to Italy “legally.” He was elected senator in the same region where his colleague Attilio Fontana, who had called for the “white race” to be defended, became governor.
“Anybody running away from a country because of conflict and war has to be hosted,” Iwobi told the Guardian. “But anybody leaving their country for the wrong reason and traveling 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.”
In the weeks preceding the election, anti-immigrant sentiment increased, with politicians all too keen on harnessing the growing backlash against the migrants. In early February, a one-time candidate for the League draped with the Italian flag went on a shooting rampage in the central Italian city of Macerata, wounding at least six African immigrants. On Monday, an Italian man also shot dead a Senegalese street vendor selling leather bags and umbrellas on a bridge in Florence.
All this comes as polls showed that anti-immigrant views are not just confined to the fringes: a 2016 Pew Research survey showed that 53% of Italians believed growing diversity made their country a worse place to live.
Iwobi isn’t the first black person to make history in Italy’s government. In 2013, Cécile Kyenge became the first black minister in Italy. Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kyenge was compared to an orangutan, had bananas thrown at her, had her speeches disrupted, and likened to a prostitute