Italy approves harsh anti-immigration bill
14.05.09 @ 09:28
BRUSSELS - The Italian lower house on Wednesday (13 May) approved legislation which criminalises irregular immigration, sets up citizen anti-crime 'patrols' and sentences landlords to up to three years of prison if they rent to undocumented migrants.
The legislation, which still has to be approved by the Senate, makes entering or staying in Italy without permission a crime punishable by a fine of €5,000 to €10,000.
A provision to triple the time irregular immigrants can be detained in holding centres also forms part of the security package, approved by 316 votes for to 238.
Silvio Berlusconi, who last year made irregular immigration the core of his successful re-election campaign, linked the bill to a vote of confidence for his government. The move ensured that more liberal-thinking members of the ruling coalition would not vote against it and so bring down the government.
"This is a fundamental step to equip law enforcement officials and mayors with the means to combat crime in general," interior minister Roberto Maroni from the hard-right anti-immigrant Northern League party said following the vote.
Italy's centre-left opposition, the Catholic Church and human rights activists have slammed the criminalisation of immigrants and said the citizen-patrols would soon turn into vigilante groups likely to harass foreigners and minorities such as the Roma.
In reply, Mr Maroni said the patrols would mostly consist of unarmed, retired police officers.
Earlier this week, Italy already came under fire from the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) and the Vatican after it started returning boatloads of migrants to Libya before they could claim asylum.
The action was in breach with international law on refugees, the UN warned.
"You should listen to the voice of the United Nations, you should listen to the authoritative voice of the Church, people can not ignore this. This government seems to be made up of supermen who have no respect for the UN," said the Democratic party's Marco Minitti.
Mr Berlusconi seems determined to stick with the vote-bringing anti-immigrant policies, however. In defence of his new bill he said that he does not support a multi-ethnic Italy.
"The left's idea is of a multi-ethnic Italy. That's not our idea, ours is to welcome only those who meet the conditions for political asylum," he told a news conference last weekend.
For now, the EU has kept silent over the new measures as they still need to be approved by the Senate. Last October, though, the Berlusconi government was forced to back down on some draconian anti-Roma measures, after the EU commission threatened to start legal proceedings against Rome.