Italian plans to fingerprint Roma criticised as 'ethnic cataloguing'

27.06.08 @ 17:35

  1. By Renata Goldirova

Italy has found itself under heavy criticism for a proposed crack-down on clandestine migration by fingerprinting Roma individuals, including children, with the European Commission admitting such a move would violate EU anti-discrimination rules and respect for fundamental rights.

  • The last census showed that there are around 80,000 Roma children in Italy (Photo: Amnesty International)

According to Italian media reports, interior minister Roberto Maroni has announced plans to conduct a census under which all the Roma will be fingerprinted.

"It is a proper census to guarantee that those who have the right to stay can live in decent conditions and to let us send home those who don't have the right to stay in Italy," Mr Maroni said.

The minister - a member of the anti-immigration Northern League, which entered the Silvio Berlusconi's government following elections in April - has rejected accusations of "ethnic cataloguing."

The European Commission, tasked to oversee whether EU legislation is properly applied in member states, was at first reluctant to react to "statements by a politician".

Only when journalists insisted, the commission spokesperson said: "If you what to know an answer to whether it is possible, the answer is implicitly clear, the answer is no".

The spokesperson underlined that Brussels "is as attached to fundamental rights and the fight against discrimination as any other European institution". The question will be put to the Italians "at the very moment when a member state decides to use a legal tool" to fulfil its declarations, he added.

Earlier this week, the plans to fingerprint Italy's Roma community drew comparisons to the policies of Benito Mussolini, the country fascist leader during the second world war.

"I remember when I could not go to school with the others," Amos Luzzatto from Italy's Union of Jewish Communities said, according to the Daily Telegraph.

"There is a latent racism in Italian culture and it manifests itself cyclically," Mr Luzzatto added, stressing that "taking the fingerprints of youngsters from one ethnic group implies that you consider them to be congenital thieves."

UNICEF, the UN organization advocating children rights, has expressed shock and deep concern and called the proposal "provocative".

But despite sharp criticism, Mr Maroni has defended the plan, saying "this is the right path". "The people like UNICEF, who complain, should visit the camps and see the conditions in which children live," he said, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Some 160,000 Roma are estimated to live in Italy. Many live there without official permission and have set up temporary camps. The most recent census recorded 80,000 of them as being minors.

Amid claims of rising crime that the right blames on immigrants, the Italian government has kicked off a legislative process aimed at tightening up the country's immigration policy. For example, it is to be a crime punishable by up to four years in jail to enter the country illegally.

The UN High Commission for Refugees has previously urged Italy to drop its intention to make illegal immigration a criminal offence. It said one in three people who arrive in Italy seek asylum.