Police arrested hundreds of suspected illegal immigrants in a sign of the determination of Silvio Berlusconi's new right-wing government to clamp down on alleged immigration-linked crime. (Report: A.Masciarelli, F.Cuomo, A.Coscione)
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's new right-wing government on Thursday announced a crackdown on immigration-linked crime, acting quickly on a campaign pledge that helped it win April polls.
Italian police arrested 268 foreigners -- including a high number of Romanians -- during the government's first week in office, the interior ministry said.
Crime blamed on illegal migrants was a central issue in the campaign for the April elections after a series of violent crimes including rape and murder were blamed on Romanian immigrants, notably the Roma ethnic group, or gypsies.
Most of the foreigners arrested in the past week were Romanian and north African, anti-crime director Francesco Gratteri told a news conference, adding that Romanian police assisted in the crackdown.
The operation, the biggest in six months, was aimed at fighting crime "linked to illegal immigration," Gratteri said, adding that it targeted "geographical areas with particular problems."
"These operations are a sign of the new climate of intolerance towards foreigners," said Daniela Pompei of the Catholic charity Sant'Egidio.
Following through on an election pledge, Berlusconi's government is set to adopt tougher measures against illegal immigration next week, some aimed specifically at Roma.
Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, who belongs to the anti-immigration Northern League, held an emergency meeting on the issue on Thursday with his visiting Romanian counterpart Cristian David.
Maroni said afterwards that Rome planned no "mass expulsions," and that he and David had agreed to set up a joint workforce on immigration and crime.
Their meeting came after Roma living in two camps outside Naples were forced to flee their homes when they were torched by assailants on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The attacks followed the attempted kidnapping of an Italian baby by a 16-year-old girl last Saturday.
After the murder of an Italian naval officer's wife blamed on a Romanian of gypsy origin in October last year, the Prodi government was spurred into tough action, passing an emergency decree under which dozens of Romanians considered a threat to public security were deported.
Gratteri said the raids also picked up 115 Italian nationals. Of those arrested, 111 people were accused of helping migrants enter Italy illegally, while the rest were accused of drug dealing, theft, pimping and other offences.
Most were already known to police and a total of 53 people have been deported, mainly Nigerians and Albanians, he said.
"The operation was not directed at a particular category of people. They could be Italian, from within the EU or outside," Gratteri insisted.
Berlusconi's cabinet is expected to press for tougher measures against illegal immigration such as making it a criminal offence punishable by up to four years in prison. Defendants could be tried within two weeks of their arrest and immediately expelled if convicted, with the sentence imposed then a matter for Romanian authorities.
The new leadership also wants legislation to extend the detention of new arrivals at processing centres for as long as 18 months, from the current two months, which would necessitate the building of new centres.
They also propose DNA tests to prove family links.
Some of the measures, such as a requirement that immigrants have a minimum source of income and live in decent housing, are aimed specifically at Roma.
"The quest for security should always go hand in hand with the goal of integration," she told AFP, adding: "We're worried."
Date created : 2008-05-16