Former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has pledged to deport 600,000 illegal migrants, including Nigerians, if he is re-elected.
Warning of a â€œsocial time bomb ready to explodeâ€, the 81-year-old said in a TV interview his centre-right coalition would remove those who â€œdo not have the right to stay.â€
In 2014 in Italy there are 71,158 regular immigrants from Nigeria. In 2006 there were 37,733. The three cities with most number of Nigerians are: Turin, Rome and Padua. According to one diplomat, 30,000 Nigerian women are prostitutes in Italy.
Out of 157,000 migrants and refugees who have arrived so far in 2016, 19 per cent were Nigerians according to the UNâ€™s refugee agency, UNHCR.
During the first half of 2017, more than 12,000 Nigerians reached Italy through Libya. By the end of 2016, there had been 27,000, a 48 per cent increase from the year before. Nigerians have been the most common nationality of central Mediterranean Sea arrivals now since the summer of 2011, a time known as the so-called North African Emergency
Berlusconi, according to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), said: â€œImmigration has become an urgent question, because after years with a leftwing government, there are 600,000 migrants who donâ€™t have the right to stay.â€
His threat came after a far-right extremist, Luca Triani shot six Africans on Saturday in Macerata, a small town in northern Italy. Two of the victims, a man and a women are Nigerians.
â€œWe consider it to be an absolute priority to regain control over the situation. When weâ€™re in government we will invest many resources in security. We will boost police presence and reintroduce the â€˜Safe Streetsâ€™ initiative. Our soldiers will patrol the streets alongside police officers,â€ he said.
Berlusconi used the interview to attack the European Union for failing to share the burden of Italyâ€™s migrant arrivals, adding: â€œToday, Italy counts for nothing in Brussels and the world. We will make it count again.â€
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni meanwhile made a pitch for unity after Saturdayâ€™s incident, saying: â€˜Hate and violence will not divide us.â€™
Berlusconiâ€™s Forza Italia has forged an alliance with two far-right parties â€“ the Northern League and the smaller Brothers of Italy â€“ in the run to the elections on March 4.
The three-time former prime minister is banned from running for office after being convicted of tax fraud.
However, he could still end up having substantial influence should the coalition gain enough of a majority to govern.
Italy is a popular landing point on Europeâ€™s southern coastline for migrants making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, often aboard unseaworthy boats.
But 2017 was a turning point for Italy. The country went from large-scale arrivals in the first six months to a sharp drop-off, thanks to controversial agreement between the EU and Libya.
Some 119,000 people landed in Italy last year, down 35 per cent on 2016.