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25 Mar, 2009 09:25

Italy adopts legal basis for exclusion of immigrants

Italian measures by Silvio Berlusconi's government to restrict immigration have not deterred an influx of foreigners from outside Europe.

Last year, the number of illegal immigrants entering the country doubled compared to 2007.

At the same time, some legal immigrants who have lived in Italy most of their lives now fear they will end up on the wrong side of the border.

Prime Minister Berlusconi’s government is on a crusade against immigrants. Last month, it issued an emergency decree allowing authorities to detain immigrants for up to six months and medical staff to report illegals for deportation. Under the new proposal, any immigrant could be thrown out if an Italian citizen reports them as a security threat.

“This government makes me feel like I’m not a human being – but a machine, – I’m only here when they need me,” anonymous immigrant Abdulla of Treviso says.

After 20 years in Italy, Abdullah has found himself a borderline criminal. His wife Marina’s papers are in order, their daughter Anya is an Italian citizen.

Abdulla is afraid that the new law could break their small family apart: “I have no teeth, no hair left, I gave them to Italy and what do I get back? Living in fear I can be deported any day.”

The mayor of Treviso in Northern Italy is offering illegals €2000 to leave the country, and his deputy says he wants no “black, brown or grey people teaching Italian children.”

Once the world’s number one producer of immigrants, in the last decade Italy has found itself on the receiving end of an immigration wave. For years, Italy enjoyed an open door policy, and as a result it is North Africans and Eastern Europeans who are doing most of the odd jobs. They also get free healthcare and benefits regardless of their status.

But that is changing as Italy plunges into recession. The populist parties, like the openly racist Northern League, are drumming up anti-immigrant legislation.

Giacomo Stucchi, the Northern League representative, states firmly that more immigrants “are making the native Italians poorer” and in a time of crisis, there is no need for somebody doing baby-sitting jobs or cleaning toilets.

The only Russian newspaper in Italy, Nasha Gazeta, offers support to the immigrant community. Emilio Saponara who started the newspaper two years ago, says the proposed legislation targets the most vulnerable.

“They should have the right to come out and say: I have the work, so why I cannot be legal? I mean we cannot put the label of illegality on people who honestly work. That’s very wrong.”

Italy could soon see mass deportations across the country. Illegals are already being rounded up into detention centers around the country. Italy’s Lampeduza Island burst last month as detainees escaped and clashed with the locals.

Most Italians restrain themselves from speaking out against the immigrants, but when asked, few would oppose what’s going on in Rome.

“The governments of countries like Russia and Ukraine should do something to stop their people from coming here, it is not only Italy’s problem,” an elderly Italian man says when asked about immigrants.

From north to south, Italy is caught in a new wave of intolerance. Powerful forces in Italian society like the church and the president have all spoken out in defence of immigrants' rights. But amid the economic woes, the radicals have got an upper hand in Italy with no place for the outsiders.