Toni Iwobi first landed in Italy at the age of 22 with a student visa to study in Perugia. Forty years later, he is now Italy’s first black senator.
Originally from Nigeria, Iwobi first gained political office back in 1995 as a municipal councillor, before reaching his position today.
Speaking to The Guardian, he said: “It’s an incredible honour for me to be Italy’s first black senator.”
— TheCable (@thecableng) March 6, 2018
In a Facebook post, Iwobi wrote: “After more than 25 years of battles as part of the League’s great family, I am about to start another great adventure!”
While some would see this as progress towards an Italy more welcoming of immigrants, there are some facts they should be more aware of.
Chiefly, that Iwobi belongs to a far-right party, whose party slogan is “stop the invasion”. Its best ever result in Italy’s general election on Sunday is said to be due to the anti-immigrant rhetoric it has been espousing.
According to The Cable, Iwobi is also the head of the party’s committee on immigration, the very same which has proposed making it easier to deport migrants, persuading other countries to repatriate their nationals from Italy using economic means and to refuse to take in asylum seekers rescued from the Mediterranean. The list goes on.
Another party member Attilio Fontana, the new governor of Lombardy, had earlier said the influx of migrants into Italy threatened to wipe out “our white race” at the start of the election campaign.
Iwobi himself has targeted the hundreds of thousands who have landed on Italy’s shores in the last four years, the bulk of which are Nigerians.
“Anybody running away from a country because of conflict and war has to be hosted.”
“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,” he said.
Iwobi and his party insist that his election shows that his party is not racist and do not have problems with legal migration.
He has defended his stance before, saying he is not against immigrants like him who had arrived in Italy legally and tried to integrate. Rather, his beef is with what he terms “the clandestine invasion”: people who seek to stay in Italy illegally.
“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.”
However, while not discouraging locals against travelling to Italy at a conference he gave in Nigeria three years ago, he had advised them to stay at home where it is more secure.
“We are also looking on future immigration regulations and to create further commercial, trade and industrial opportunities between some imminent Italian businessmen, industrialists and their Nigerian counterparts for our respective people of Nigeria and Italy,” he had said.
Iwobi’s election comes in the wake of an anti-racism protest where hundreds of Italians and African immigrants chanted “no more racism”. They had criticised his party for instigating racial tensions after a Senegalese street vendor was shot dead by an Italian man.