‘I beg you, I beg you, don’t hurt me… Please let me go.’
Those were the words uttered by a helpless 13-year-old girl as she was allegedly dragged into a public bathroom by a group of Egyptian migrants in Catania on the Italian island of Sicily last week.
Her pleas were ignored.
Instead, she claims two of the migrants – both minors – brutally raped her for half an hour while the rest of the gang allegedly restrained her desperate boyfriend and forced him to watch the horror unfold.
All seven of the suspects arrived in Italy as illegal migrants by boat, but were granted temporary residency as Italian law does not permit the expulsion of minors.
News of the heinous attack prompted immediate fury, with Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini calling for the perpetrators to be chemically castrated and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni vowing ‘justice will be done’.
The gang in question has since been shackled after DNA testing confirmed at least one minor had sexually abused the girl, and only because the eldest of the group was so disturbed by the actions of his underlings that he confessed to authorities.
But the horrendous incident has also sparked a fresh row over immigration policy in Italy, which saw a 50% increase in illegal migrant landings last year versus 2022 according to the Interior Ministry.
A select few individuals came out in defence of the perpetrators in the wake of the attack.
Catania bishop Luigi Renna was quick to warn against the profiling of migrants for violent crimes, declaring: ‘The crime committed by these young immigrants must not lead us to generalisations, because we know that not all immigrants are violent, just as not all young Italians are violent.’
And immigration workers who knew two of the older teens involved in the incident told Italian media the boys had made efforts to integrate with Italian society and were pursuing work permits at the time of the attack.
‘We had no reason to suspect that they would do anything like that,’ they said.
But several outraged officials and commentators called for a crackdown on illegal immigration, while others pointed fingers at Meloni’s government for its perceived inaction on the issue.
The Prime Minister’s commitment to strengthening immigration policy was a cornerstone of her campaign for office which saw her call for the EU to launch a ‘naval blockade’ of African shores to turn back migrant boats.
But Italy’s shores remain the primary point of arrival for migrants journeying from North Africa.
Almost 156,000 migrants arrived by sea last year alone – 17,000 of which were unaccompanied minors – versus 103,846 in 2022.
Fabio Cantarella, the former environment and urban security councillor of Catania, said: ‘The national government has his responsibilities, above all the Minister of the Interior (Matteo Piantedosi), who should find the courage to return to implementing the policies of his predecessor, Matteo Salvini, against uncontrolled immigration.’
Salvini, the former Interior Minister and now deputy PM, was one of the most outspoken critics of illegal migration in Italy and is currently on trial after he banned an NGO rescue ship from docking in any Italian port in 2019.
Mayor of Catania Enrico Trantino added that he was concerned about ‘security problems’ in the Sicilian city as a result of high migration rates, but said his reports had fallen on deaf ears.
‘There is bitterness and pain – it is as if the entire city was violated with this vulgar, vile and cowardly gesture. I hope that what happened will be severely punished by the judicial authorities,’ he said of the gang rape.
‘In Catania we have a security problem that we have declared several times to the Minister of the Interior.’
Meanwhile, Cultura Identita – a foundation dedicated to the promotion of Italian art and culture, released a statement railing against immigration policy, which prevents minors from being deported.
‘We are faced with yet another bestiality, yet another disgusting act perpetrated once again with shameless ferocity by a group of boys who entered Italy illegally – minors (or self-styled minors) who could not be repatriated.
‘This squalid fact should at least make us reflect on how uncontrolled and illegal immigration causes a predictable and unmanageable emergency on the security front in our country,’ it concluded.