The Italian government is pressing ahead with plans to fingerprint Roma communities, despite criticism from the European Parliament and human rights groups. To avoid claims of discrimination, it may require all Italian citizens to be fingerprinted.
Italy may demand all citizens be fingerprinted, a move aimed at defusing criticism of government plans to force Roma people and their children to provide fingerprints as a way of tackling criminality.
That policy has been condemned by the European Parliament, by Romania, where many Roma come from, and by religious groups which have compared it to the tagging of Jews by Nazis and fascists in the 1930s.
A parliamentary committee agreed on Wednesday that from 2010 all identity cards, which Italians have to carry, should include the bearer's fingerprints. The measure still has to pass through parliament.
"It will defuse the Roma question, (fingerprints) will be taken from everyone," opposition deputy Antonio Misani was quoted as saying by the Corriere della Sera newspaper's website.
Conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi won a landslide at an April election on a promise to get tough on crime which many Italians blame on immigrants.
Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, a member of the staunchly anti-immigrant Northern League party, is pushing the measure to fingerprint people living in Roma camps. He has said only people who cannot provide valid identification will be fingerprinted.
Berlusconi has defended the policy, saying it would help the state clean up Roma camps, which are often squalid shanty towns on the outskirts of major cities. There are about 140,000 Roma in Italy, where they are known as "nomads".
"The Italian government wants to guarantee Roma children can go to school and wants to integrate these European citizens," Berlusconi said on Tuesday.
Romania was unconvinced. "We cannot accept that Romanian citizens are subject to discriminatory practices that do not respect human dignity," Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu told a cabinet meeting.
"A major part of the Romanian population that lives in Italy is worried and affected by these measures," he said.
The Italian foreign ministry replied in a statement saying that while the large majority of Romanians in Italy were appreciated for their "professional and human qualities ... a minority of them have unfortunately been responsible for crimes which have seriously affected Italian public opinion".
Two widely publicised rapes -- one by a Romanian and one by an African -- in the run up to April's election helped push crime and immigration to the top of the political agenda.
Commenting on the plan to fingerprint Roma, Italy's privacy watchdog said it was "absolutely necessary to avoid recourse to techniques based on discriminatory criteria, especially if ethnic or religious" but said fingerprinting the whole population would not be discriminatory.
Opposition leader Walter Veltroni said: "Now we need immediately to suspend the Roma measure as it looks like there will be a decision that will be valid for everyone."
Date created : 2008-07-18