ROME — Emmanuel Chidi Namdi and his girlfriend, Chinyery, made enormous sacrifices to reach Italy from Nigeria after the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram bombed their church in Nigeria, killing their parents and daughter, in the hope that the overwhelmingly Catholic country would be a safe haven.
That conviction, however, didn’t prevent the 36-year-old immigrant from being beaten to death by an Italian farmer with connections to far-right groups.
The couple’s path to Italy wasn’t easy. They survived Niger’s dessert, factional violence and human traffickers in Libya, and what Pope Francis has called the “cemetery” of the Mediterranean Sea.
For their unborn child, the odyssey towards a brighter future was too much, dying along the way.
Despite the hardship, the couple arrived in the Italian city of Fermo last September, a town of about 40,000 in the central Italian region of Marche. There, together with 124 other migrants and refugees, they found asylum in the archdiocesan seminary.
“They were so in love, they were always together, and they had great projects,” Father Vinicio Albanesi of Fermo told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
Namdi dreamed of getting a job, a home, and above all, the resident permit to stay in Italy.
But according to Albanesi, nothing was more important for the couple than each other.
With no legal documents they couldn’t get civilly married, yet he celebrated their Catholic wedding.
“They really wanted it,” Albanesi said.
Namdi died on Wednesday, a day after being beaten to death by Amedeo Mancini, a local farmer described by Italian newspapers as having connections to far-right political groups, and who had been banned from public sporting events for violent behavior.
He was killed for defending his wife’s honor, after Mancini and another aggressor had called her an “African monkey.”
The men responsible for Namdi’s death pushed Chinyery several times and threw her to the floor. When her partner tried to defend her, Mancini, grabbed a traffic sign pole and delivered a fatal blow.
Albanesi fears that Namdi’s murder wasn’t an isolated case, but a sign of a growing xenophobia in Fermo and across Italy, where thousands of migrants continue to arrive daily: on Tuesday alone, the local coast guard rescued 4,500 people.
Signs to support the priest’s fears are abundant. From February to May, four home-made bombs were planted outside Fermo churches that work with migrants.
No one was injured by the explosives and they produced little damage, yet according to Albanesi, “they are part of the same hand and racist matrix.”
Speaking to Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishop’s conference, the priest, who heads the migrants’ welcoming project in the archdiocesan seminary, made an appeal to the local police to take action, beyond imprisoning the man who murdered the Nigerian migrant.
“Closeness and solidarity are a good thing, but a ‘soft’ response to these facts is not enough,” he said. “These [perpetrators] aren’t young kids. The police know who these attackers are, and they should be stopped immediately.”
Yet the priest also said that the growing racist violence is not going to stop the work he and others in the diocese are doing to welcome migrants.
If anything, he said, this case of “cowardly violence” pushes him to move forward “with even more conviction, strengthened by the support of my bishop, who … immediately granted the use of the seminary spaces to accommodate the refugees.”
On Wednesday evening, a crowd gathered to pray next to the seminary where Namdi and his wife lived. Among those in attendance were representatives not only of the Catholic Church but also leaders of other religions and members of other organizations that help in the migrant crisis, such as the Red Cross, and even the mayor.
The killing of the asylum-seeker sparked national reaction, with Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano saying that the Italian government was keen to prevent a contagious atmosphere of hate.
“Italians are a great nation, who are at the forefront of demonstrating to the world hospitality to refugees,” Alfano said.
Italy’s Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, who knows Albanesi personally, phoned the priest to express solidarity. On Thursday Renzi also went on Twitter to express his reaction: “The government today is in Fermo with Fr. Vinicio (Albanesi) and local institutions in memory of Emmanuel.”