The death of a four-year-old girl from malaria in Italy has turned into a political case and become a pretext for some politicians and media outlets to accuse migrants of bringing in disease and causing epidemics. On September 6, Libero introduced the story with the headline, "After poverty, they bring in illness: immigrants affected by lethal diseases spread infection," while Rome's Il Tempo wrote, "Here is immigrants' malaria," sparking indignation and reports to the judiciary and the national association of journalists.
The girl had not travelled to malaria -prone countries and was in hospital in Brescia having been treated for diabetes in Portogruaro and Trento. There, a family that had just returned from Burkina Faso was receiving treatment for malaria - probably the reason for the headlines. "The use of sensationalist and unfounded headlines against foreigners disobeys the journalists' code of ethics, generating groundless fears," said the national association of journalists and journalists' union.
Some organisations including the Italy chapter of Amnesty International are considering reporting the papers to the magistrature. "There is an attempt to substantiate the idea that immigrants also carry lethal diseases, starting from a single case of infection. It is quite simply false news," said Giovanni Maria Bellu, president of the association Carta di Roma.
Weeks of controversy over migrants
Several episodes involving migrants have become the pretext for controversy on a political level and in the media in recent weeks. These include the rape of a Polish woman and a transgender person in the Adriatic coastal resort of Rimini on the night of August 25-26, allegedly at the hands of a gang of four African migrants, three of whom were minors.
The episode fuelled xenophobic sentiments among people close to extreme right-wing parties and movements such as the Northern League, Casapound and Forza Nuova. The latter has organised a "patriotic march" in the capital on October 28 to mark the 95th anniversary of the March on Rome, when Fascist leader Benito Mussolini seized power in Italy, "to say no to the Ius soli law and call for an end to violence and rape by immigrants."
The announcement of the march has sparked protests by migrant associations and Five Star Movement mayor Virginia Ragi has said, "The march on rome must not be repeated."