Italian Government Accused Of "Inviting" Migrants

Govt accused of 'inviting' migrants
Opposition brands Prodi's squad 'amateurs' on immigration (ANSA) – Rome, May 25, 2006

Romano Prodi's fledgling centre-left government was accused of encouraging a rush of illegal migrants into Italy on Thursday after two leftwing members promised imminent moves in the area of immigration .

“We're dealing with amateurs who are running amok,” said Gianfranco Fini, who was foreign minister in the previous government of Silvio Berlusconi and the co-author of its tough legislation on immigration .

Fini, leader of the rightwing National Alliance party, pointed scornfully at statements made on Wednesday by Social Solidarity Minister Paolo Ferrero, a Communist, and Interior Undersecretary Marcella Lucidi, of the Democratic Left .

Ferrero said a decree was on the way which would give legal status to 480,000 illegal immigrants who were already in the country and who had applied for residency papers earlier this year .

Lucidi said the previous government's policy of flying illegal immigrants who came from Libya back to that country would be discontinued because Tripoli was not a signatory of the Geneva Convention on refugees .

Fini and colleagues in the centre-right opposition said these statements would quickly reach the ears of would-be immigrants, who would be encouraged to set sail for Italy from Libya .

“This is chaos. Italy must not become Europe's soft underbelly,” Fini said .

Italy is a popular destination for would-be immigrants seeking a gateway into Europe and thousands leave from north African ports every year, heading for its southern shores .

Shortly after Ferrero and Lucidi made their remarks, Interior Minister Giuliano Amato issued a statement saying that existing immigration legislation would continue to be applied for now. A key principle of the current law is that residency permits for immigrants must be tied to existing jobs. Amato's ministry also noted that he had met the Libyan ambassador to confirm existing cooperation in the area of illegal immigration .

But Maurizio Gasparri, a member of Fini's party, said the damage had already been done .

He said he had information from “authoritative sources” which indicated that Wednesday's statements by Ferrero and Lucidi could provoke a huge wave of immigrant landings in Sicily and the islands .

Maurizio Sacconi, labour undersecretary until a few weeks ago, said the promise of a decree for illegal immigrants already in Italy was “devastating”, partly because it could lead to a trade in fictitious jobs .

The centre left tried to play down the storm on Thursday, with Democratic Left leader Piero Fassino accusing the opposition of stirring up “useless” polemics about something every day .

Politicians on the hard left voiced support for Ferrero, saying it was essential to give legal status to illegal immigrants who were already working in Italy .

Family Minister Rosy Bindi also entered the fray by arguing that more needed to be done to ensure that immigrants already in Italy were allowed to bring their families into the country too.