Italy: European Rights Watch Dog Attacks Immigration Record

Italy: European rights watch dog attacks immigration record

16 April (AKI)

Europe's top human rights watchdog on Thursday expressed “deep concern” over the conservative Italian government's hardline immigration policies, including plans to make illegal immigration a crime and a controversial census of Sinti and Roma Gypsies in Italy.

“Criminalising migrants is a disproportionate measure which risks igniting further discriminatory and xenophobic tendencies in the country,” said the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg in a new report.

Hammarberg's latest report followed a two-day visit to Italy in January, during which he visited Gypsy camps in the capital, Rome, and met Italian government officials, human rights organisations, and members of the Italian senate's newly formed Human Rights Commission.

“Italy should eradicate discrimination and xenophobia and improve its migration policy,” he stressed.

Hammarberg expressed “serious concerns” about Italy's policies towards its Roma Gypsy minority, which he said faces “a persistent climate of intolerance.”

“Their living conditions are still unacceptable in a number of settlements that I visited,” he warned.

There are an estimated 160,000 Roma Gypsies in Italy, nearly half of whom were born in Italy and have Italian citizenship.

Others come from European Union countries such as Romania and the countries of the former Yugoslavia.

Most live in illegal camps, many of which are being demolished following a series of high-profile rapes allegedly committed by Roma Gypsies.

There have also been vigilante-style attacks against Romanians in various parts of Italy.

Hammarberg conceded that some efforts had been made to improve the situation of the Roma. “Local good practices exist in the country, and they should be broadened,” he said.

But he voiced “deep concern” about the government's controversial census of Roma and Sinti settlements in Italy and its “compatibility with European standards guiding the collection and processing of personal data.”

The Italian government claims the census, which began last year, is aimed at establishing who has the right to be in Italy and to give those individuals access to education and social services.

Hammarberg urged the authorities to create “consultative mechanisms” at all levels with the Roma and Sinti Gypsy communities. This is needed to avoid evictions without offering alternative housing and appropriate education for Gypsy children, he noted.

He also recommended that representation of ethnic groups in the police be increased and that the government establish an independent national human rights institution, such as an ombudsman to strengthen protection for their human rights.

He attacked Italy's draft law on public security for its possible negative effects on migrants' rights.

This includes making illegal immigration a crime, obliging health workers to report illegal immigrants to police and creating local security patrols made up of 'concerned citizens'.