Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi urged on Monday Italians to signal to the police the whereabouts of illegal migrants and promising mass repatriations by boat and plane, using the arrest of a Nigerian suspect over homicide charges as a pretext.
“In order to find them, everyone can point out their presence and these people will be picked up,” he told Rai state television, during a heated campaign for a national election.
This weekend, a neo-Nazi shot and injured six African migrants in central Italy, in a racially motivated attack portrayed as a response to the arrest of a Nigerian man on suspicion of murdering a local teenager.
Dismissing the shooting as a hate crime and justifying the gunman as “insane”, Berlusconi, whose conservative coalition is leading in the opinion polls, took the opportunity to promote a hardline on migrants, saying hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants in Italy were “a social time bomb ready to explode”.
Saturday’s gunman, Luca Traini, stood for the League in a local election last year, but did not receive any votes. Police found a copy of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf at his house and he has a neo-Nazi symbol tattooed above his eyebrow.
The 81-year-old billionaire accused them of living off “their wits and crime” and said he would initiate mass deportations if he and his rightist allies win power next month.
Berlusconi's shift for a tough immigration policy contradicts with his strategy so far as he tried to allay fears over the sometimes extremist tones of his allies by promising to be a moderating force should they govern together.
The ruling center-left Democratic Party (PD) has been lambasted by conservative opponents for not keeping some 625,000 asylum-seekers from entering Italy — most of whom set sail from Libya, which was plunged into chaos after NATO ousted former strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
“If migrants come to Italy it’s because someone went to war with Libya, and the prime minister was Berlusconi,” replied the PD leader Matteo Renzi, adding that migrants got stuck in Italy because of an EU refugee pact that Berlusconi signed in 2003.