Italy targets illegal immigrants

A new law pleases anti-immigration groups but others say it is excessive.

Alan Fisher - Italy immigration package
 The Movimento Sociale Italiano believes Italy would be a better country if it stopped immigration

A restaurant called White sits on a small side street in the centre of Rome. 

While people on the ground floor order their pastas and salad, a meeting is being held upstairs. 

Amid shouts of “victory” and straight-armed salutes, the Movimento Sociale Italiano party (MSI), which believes Italy would be a better country if it stopped immigration and cracked down on those who sneak in illegally, is celebrating the fact that new legislation passed by the Italian senate has met many of their wishes.

In video
Italy cracks down on illegal immigration

The law makes illegal immigration a crime punishable with a maximum fine of $14,000 and raises to six months the amount of time that illegal migrants can be detained in holding centres before being kicked out of the country.

Gaetano Saya, a MSI member, has been investigated by police for posting racist material on a website. He once said “immigration is the biggest threat to our race”. 

In charge of today’s gathering, as we sit in the cool of the café he tells me: “We think the immigrants are very dangerous. When we come to power we will stop all immigration and begin to send back those who arrived here after a certain date.

“We have a new phrase. These people are not immigrants, they are non-Italians and we don’t want any more non-Italians on Italian territory.”

Worry and fear

There may be as many as 600,000 illegal immigrants in Italy; they don’t exactly announce their presence. Many live unnoticed, unremarkable lives. 

But under the new legislation, Italians must turn them over to the authorities if they try to register their children for school, or look for medical treatment. 

Abdul says he fears Italians will feel they have to turn him in if he goes to hospital

Bari Abdul arrived in Rome three years ago from Guinea and lives on the streets. We met near a soup kitchen where hot meals are handed out to others like him. 

He doesn’t speak much but is very worried about the new law.

“I can’t even go to get treatment at hospital now – the Italians there will feel they have to turn me in,” he says, ignoring the fact that he is in the country illegally.

Esquilinho is a rough neighbourhood in central Rome that is home to many immigrants.

Alphousseyn Sonko was born here. He has Senegalese parents but an Italian passport. 

Sonko believes the new law will make life tougher for people like him: “This so-called security law is more about those with papers and how they live rather than how you stop those coming across the Mediterranean Sea.”

‘Really bad law’

Mario Marazziti works for the Sant Edidio charity which offers help to those who need it – wherever they come from. For many it provides the only hot meal of the day.

There may be as many as 600,000 illegal immigrants in Italy

In the pretty courtyard, Italians and immigrants mingle, and for a few short minutes, their lives mesh, backgrounds forgotten, their needs exactly the same.  

Mario can barely disguise his contempt for politicians.

“The so-called security law that has been just passed by the Italian parliament is a really bad law. It’s a big signal to the population; it says immigrants are a potential risk, potential criminals. The crime this law is targeting is the crime of hope and the desire for a better life,” he says.

Immigrants and immigration are not on the agenda for this week’s G8 summit in Italy.

But a number of charities and aid agencies believe that with the financial crisis and the rise of support for right-wing parties across Europe, it is one factor that will influence many of the decisions that will be made here.

Source: Al Jazeera

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