It’s been four years since the beginning of the migrant crisis in Italy, and the continent is still struggling to get its act together.
But while it was not always that way, many Italians, who are now increasingly worried about what will happen to their country if it stays in the EU, still hold grudges against Italians from south Africa, who came to the country before the first waves of migration in the 1980s.
They’re still angry at Italians for their “racist” policies toward them.
“In some ways, the Italians from South Africa have been very generous with their hospitality,” says Ilona Schuessler, a historian at the University of Naples.
“They’ve even offered to let you use their house for the summer if you want to stay there.”
Schuesson says that while some of these immigrants brought their own cultural traditions, there are also Italian families who still practice their ethnic identity in their own ways.
“Many Italians from southern Africa, especially the Roma community, have become very attached to their Italian identity,” she says.
“But that’s partly because the Italian government was very accommodating toward the Roma.”
It was not just Italians from Italy who held grudged views towards Italians from Africa, though.
“It’s the same with the Jews,” Schuessen says.
While many Jews are still wary of Italians, they’re also still proud of their heritage.
“We’ve had a long history of the Italians and Jews living together,” Schusessen says, referring to the Jewish population of Rome.
“And they have always been close.”
For years, Italians have also been at their most vulnerable.
While the refugee crisis is forcing them to adapt to life in a new country, many have been left with few resources and little to do.
It is estimated that more than 3 million Italians have fled their country since 2016, and nearly a quarter of them are children.
That’s the highest number of children in Europe, Schuestone says, and many are leaving their parents behind.
Schuessen says that despite this, Italy has always been at its best when it was still home to large numbers of Italians.
“Italy was very welcoming and hospitable for many people from South America and Latin America,” she explains.
“The Italians in South Africa were also very welcoming, because they were not afraid of them.
They knew that they were welcome here, but they did not want to take the risks that they did in South America.”
It wasn’t just the Italians that suffered in Italy’s crisis, either.
Many Italian families from South Asia have also migrated to Italy over the past decade.
For some, it has been a life-changing experience.
“I’m very happy with the life I’ve had in Italy,” says Zulfiqar, who arrived in Italy with his wife and two sons from Pakistan in 2016.
“If I didn’t live here, I would not be able to be here.”
His children have been in Italy since they were young and are now in their third year of school.
“My kids will not go back,” he says.
He says he would like to go back to his home country, but he doesn’t have the means to do so.
“This country has been very good to me,” Zulfiquar says.
In the end, Zulfaqar says that Italy has become his home.
“Every time I leave Italy, I return here,” he tells me.
“Even if it’s in my heart, it is in my body.”
For the families of South Asians, the Italian refugee crisis has also brought a sense of closure.
“When you think of Italy, the first image you think about is how welcoming it is,” says Ayesha, who moved to Italy with her husband in 2012.
“People here treat you with the same dignity as people here.”
It has been nearly two years since Ayesh was deported from South Korea to India, but she is still waiting for her son to return to South Korea.
Ayeshe says she feels lucky that her family has stayed in Italy.
“Our lives here, my son is studying and my daughter is working, and I feel so safe here,” she tells me as she sits on the floor of their apartment in Rome.