Italian Interior Minister insists on "census" of Roma despite criticism
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, despite harsh criticism of his announcement Monday that he is planning to conduct a census of Romani people and to deport those without documents, is insisting on his plans. Yesterday he tweeted his defiance of the criticism.
Salivini has been criticized not just by the opposition, but also by a governing coalition member, Vice Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, who called the proposed step unconstitutional. "A census of Romani people and an audit of public expenditures. When the left proposed it, that was seen as good, but when I suggest it, I'm a racist. I will not back down, I will keep going," Salvini tweeted today.
In that connection the Interior Minister reminded the public of similar proposals from Milanese politicians in 2012 to conduct a census of Romani people in that city. According to the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, the 2012 suggestion was a component of a project to aid families with children.
Salvini also defended himself on Monday by asserting that he wants to protect Romani children living in settlements whose parents allegedly do not send them to school. The politician based his election campaign on anti-immigrant policies and said the census would demonstrate "who is living here and how."
"Our aim is to map the situation in the Romani camps," he said. After creating records about the Romani people, according to him, the authorities would deport those who do not have the requisite documentation on the basis of bilateral agreements.
Opposition parties were adamant in their criticisms of Salvini's declaration Monday. "Yesterday migrants, today the Roma, tomorrow the pistol will be aimed at all of us," commented former Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of the left-wing Democratic Party (PD).
Maurizio Martina, who is temporarily leading the PD, called the Interior Minister's words "repugnant". Italian MP Matteo Orfini (PD) responded by saying "If we actually are going to move forward with a census, I'd start with one of the Fascists and racists."
The head of the Italian Union of Jewish Communities, Noemi Di Segni, compared Salvini's intention to conduct a census of Romani people to the repression of Jewish people as perpetrated by the Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Agence France-Presse reported that the press spokesperson for the European Commission, Alexander Winterstein, also criticized Salvini, telling journalists that "it is not possible to deport European citizens on the basis of ethnic criteria."
The Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner, Dunja Mijatović, is concerned that Salvini's remarks and ones that are similar to them will spark hatred against Romani people. "Creating records about people according to their ethnicity violates European and international human rights principles," she told the ANSA press agency.
Italian Vice Prime Minister Di Maio is the leader of the Five-Star Movement party, and his remarks were the first time, since the Government was created at the beginning of this month, that he has publicly criticized his coalition partner. Di Maio has called the intentions expressed by Salvini, who is the head of the "Liga" party, unconstitutional.
A "head count" of Romani people was performed in Italy in 2008 by then-Prime Minister Berlusconi. The Italian authorities collected the fingerprints of Romani people back then as well, justifying the move by saying they needed to ascertain who among them was illegally in the country.
The Italian authorities earned criticism from human rights defenders abroad and domestically over that procedure. Berlusconi's "head count" was criticized at the time, for example, by MEPs, but the European Commission eventually called the action one that had been undertaken in order "to identify persons who cannot otherwise be identified."
A spokesperson for the Commission also said at the time that the data during the "head count" was not being accumulated on the basis of ethnic origin and that EU principles of human rights protection were not being violated. In 2013, however, a court in Rome ruled that the Italian Government had to pay citizens of Italy who are also of Romani origin compensation for including them in this "discriminatory head count and collection of fingerprints."
The court also ordered that the personal data acquired through the "head count" be destroyed. According to estimates, between 120 000 and 180 000 Romani people live in Italy.
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