Ventimiglia is a small Ligurian municipality with little more than 20,000 inhabitants, situated along the coast, at the French-Italian border. The city — which had its local council dissolved in 2012 due to mafia infiltration, and has of late been suffering from socio-economic unrest — caught the attention of the national and international press when, beginning in spring 2015, a large number of migrants started trying to pass from Ventimiglia into France, in order to continue their journey.
The immigration narrative in the local press
Since the wave that hit Ventimiglia in summer 2015, migration has become one of the most covered topics in the local press. Specifically, a narrative in the key of emergency and security has been firmly established. For several days in the summer of 2015, and then in that of 2016, articles dealing with migration represented more than fifty percent of the total published articles. These figures dropped at the same time as the migratory flow, but still remained high.
Analysing the quota of articles referring to migrants and migratory dynamics, we can see how the topics are discussed. Looking at certain keywords, it is possible to obtain the percentage frequency with which they appear in texts, and their development over time.
As can be seen in the visualisations, the security narrative (“sicurezza”) becomes increasingly present over time, along with an ever more insistent call on the forces of order (“polizia”) to take action. On the other hand, terms with positive connotations, such as “welcome”, become less frequent. Moreover, migrants are no longer called “refugees” — a term which has practically disappeared over the last few years.
The migrant question and Ventimiglia
The local media’s hostile narrative reflects the actions undertaken by the local administration.
In recent years, Ventimiglia’s mayor Enrico Ioculano (Democratic Party) adopted a series of measures to confront the issue. However, unable to find short-term solutions, Ioculano opted for a hardline policy, with little inclination towards compromise. All too often, the local government’s decisions have seemed dictated by nervousness and the need to appear to be doing something, rather than a strategy likely to manage and resolve the situation.
Already in 2015, there were systematic evictions of all informal reception centres, created in this case by various “No borders” groups. The clearing of one particular self-organised camp was symbolic, becoming a reference point for migrants and activists. The camp was cleared on 30 September 2015, by means of a massive operation by police and carabinieri: migrants in the camp were taken to a Red Cross camp, the activists were identified and reported, and everything that was in the camp (furniture, clothes, food, medicine donated by citizens) was taken away by sanitation workers.
In the spring of 2016, arguing with his own party — guilty, in his opinion, of not giving him sufficient support — Ioculano took leave of Partito Democratico (PD) along with with eleven majority councillors.
In the spring of 2017, a subsequently revoked decree, which was heavily criticised by various associations including the Italian Union of Police Officers, prevented the distribution of food and water to migrants.
In the summer of 2017 the “Gianchette” were cleared and closed — home to a reception centre run by the Catholic church for women, minors and families at risk, which in less than a year and a half had assisted 13,000 people.
Still in 2017, warrants were released, and “socially dangerous” activists known to help or protest with migrants were banned from Ventimiglia and adjacent territories.
In 2018 the mayor managed to have certain migrant camps