A Nigerian man who fled persecution by Islamist extremists was beaten to death in a small Italian town after he reportedly defended his wife from racist abuse. The case has sparked an outcry in Italy over the treatment of asylum seekers.
Emmanuel Chidi Namdi, 36, reportedly protested when an Italian man called his wife “a monkey” on a street in Fermo, in the Marche region of central Italy, on Tuesday. During a scuffle with the man, Chidi Namdi fell or was punched and received a head injury. He was hospitalized with a brain hemorrhage and died Wednesday.
In a country that has struggled to accommodate thousands of African migrants sailing to Italy from Libya over the last few years, Chidi Namdi’s death provoked a horrified reaction.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi condemned “hatred, racism and violence” in a tweet and sent Interior Minister Angelino Alfano to Fermo to convene a security meeting.
The suspected attacker was identified as Amedeo Mancini, who was described by Italian media as a far right supporter of a local soccer team who had been banned from games for violent behavior. Mancini has said he was attacked by the Nigerian man and fought back in self-defense.
On Thursday, prosecutors said he would be charged with racially motivated manslaughter.
“Italy, the Marche region and Fermo are not represented by Amedeo Mancini,” Alfano said. “Who committed this crime does not represent the heart of Italy.”
Chidi Namdi and his wife, Chinyery, fled Nigeria when their church was bombed by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, killing his parents and their young daughter. Before the couple crossed the Mediterranean, Chinyery Chidi Namdi was reportedly beaten by a trafficker in Libya while she was pregnant. She had a miscarriage while on the boat to Italy.
“We are praying and ask forgiveness for not knowing how to protect a young life — someone who had fled from terror to find death in our country,” said Father Vinicio Albanesi, the priest running the religious community that had put up the Nigerian couple since September while they waited for their asylum application to be processed.
The priest said his church had previously suffered minor bomb attacks from far right groups.
“There are small groups of people who evidently think they belong to the Aryan race,” he said.
Albanesi said the victim’s widow was now being looked after by nuns. “We are trying to raise her spirits, but she is now completely alone in Italy. She has no relatives, no one,” he said.
More than 67,000 migrants, mostly Africans, have been saved in the Mediterranean and brought to Italy this year, where many will wait months for asylum requests to be processed. Many Nigerian women have been forced into prostitution in Italy and now make up the largest ethnic group among prostitutes on the country’s streets.
More than 100,000 asylum seekers are spread around reception centers in Italy, many in small towns, as part of a bid by authorities to avoid the buildup of migrant ghettos in large towns.
The downside is the occasional violent reaction from small-town dwellers unused to migrants.
Cecile Kyenge, who migrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Italy at age 19 before becoming Italy’s first African-origin government minister, said on Thursday that right-wing Italian politicians continued to whip up anti-migrant sentiment.
In 2013, Kyenge, then the minister for integration, was publicly likened to a “orangutan” by a member of the anti-migrant Northern League party, and she said she is still regularly subjected to verbal abuse. “Sometimes I wonder what would happen to me if I did not have a bodyguard,” she said.
Kington is a special correspondent.