Malmstrom blasts racist barrage on first black minister

Commissioner says EU wants to help Italy with wave of immigrants

Malmstrom blasts racist barrage on first black minister

(by Sandra Cordon) Rome, August 5 - European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom on Monday blasted a spate of racist attacks directed against Italy's first black cabinet member, Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge. "I'm saddened to see Minister Kyenge has been the target of incredibly offensive and unjustifiable racist comments," Malmstrom told ANSA. "I have a huge respect for the way she deals with such attacks," added Malmstrom. "Her dignity, serenity and intelligence are really impressive". Since her appointment approximately four months ago to cabinet by Premier Enrico Letta, Kyenge has been subjected to a steady barrage of racial abuse – including comments by a member of Italy's Senate comparing the minister to an orangutan. Much of the abuse has come from members of Italy's anti-immigration Northern League political party. Police are investigating in some cases, such as a banana-throwing incident at a rally where Kyenge was speaking. That was followed by slurs against Kyenge, and some comments in support of the banana-thrower, posted on the Facebook pages of local politicians in Tuscany and the Veneto region. Some have also expressed opposition to her work on immigration rights. Despite the incidents, Kyenge has said she doesn't think all of Italy has a racial bias. "There are episodes of racism but you can't say that Italy is a racist country," Kyenge said recently. The Congo-born minister said she was "proud to be Italian," adding she believed that "a cultural shift" was taking place in the country. Malmstrom said she supported Kyenge's work and commitment to migrants' affairs. "I encourage open debate based on facts and knowledge, and conducted in a spirit of mutual respect," said Malmstrom. Meanwhile, the commissioner said the European Union will continue to support Italy and particularly Lampedusa as the southern port community absorbs waves of immigrants. "I really hope that all efforts at the EU level will reduce the pressure on Lampedusa," Malmstrom said. "We know very well that Lampedusa is struggling and is under strong pressure, in particular in this period," the commissioner added. "I admire very much the way local authorities deal with the situation..but we recognize that we can not wait and allow Lampedusa to do this good work alone". Waves of immigrants, many from North Africa, arrive in the port city which is one of the most southern in Italy. Pope Francis visited there recently to draw attention to the plight of immigrants and number that die each year making the perilous sea crossing. Malmstrom said the EU has offered Italy "substantial financial support" through migration management funds that reached 232 million euros in the 2010-2012 period.

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