Friday, June 27, 2008


Italy: Move to fingerprint Gypsies sparks controversy

Roma, 26 June (AKI) - An Italian government proposal to fingerprint all the country's Gypsies, including children, has drawn stern criticism from members of the Catholic Church and from the opposition.

Gypsy children whose parents keep them out of school and send them to beg on the streets would be taken into care, under plans announced by the Interior Minister Roberto Maroni.

Maroni said the planned 'census' of Gypsies is not 'ethnic profiling' but aimed ensuring decent living conditions for all individuals who have the right to residency in Italy and expelling those who are here illegally.

He was addressing the lower house of Parliament's constitutional affairs committee.

"Does living among rats as Gypsy children do in their camps respect their rights?" he asked.

"As Italian citizens , we should be ashamed about this situation, which should not be allowed to continue."

Under Maroni's plans, the fingerprinting of Gypsies would be overseen by special Gypsy commissioners appointed in Italy's major cities since the conservative government took office last month.

But a Roman Catholic Archbishop and a missionary order of nuns have condemned Maroni's clampdown.

"We cannot make poverty a crime," said Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travellers, quoted by La Stampa daily on Thursday.

"Removing children from their parents is a serious issue. We should be giving financial aid to Gypsy parents instead, to encourage them to get educated and to become cultural mediators," Marchetto said.

A Catholic order of nuns, The Comboni Missionary Sisters, described as "racist" Maroni's plans to fingerprint Gypsy children saying it recalled the persecution of Jews in World War II.

"Many of these children already attend school. It is incomprehensible why at such a tender age they should already be made to feel different - the bearers of a modern-day yellow Star of David that brands them as probable future criminals," the order said in a statement.

Italy's former Social Solidarity Minister Paolo Ferrero went further: "The ethnic profiling of children, be they Italian, foreign citizens, or Roma Gypsies, is a barbarous and unacceptable proposal that is unfitting for a civilised country," he said.

A group of Italian Communist members of the European Parliament on Thursday asked the European Commission to consider if the planned fingerprinting of Gypsies breached European Union law on the rights of minors and citizenship.

Of the 150,000 Roma Gypsies who live in Italy, about 70,000 have Italian citizenship. Many Roma Gypsies come from Romania.

Tens of thousands of Roma Gypsies have entered Italy in the past few years since Slovakia and Romania joined the EU, and are being blamed by many Italians for much of the recent rise in crime rates.

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