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EU Warns Italy Against Roma Discrimination

As Italy discusses tightening its laws on illegal immigration, the European Union's employment chief warned the country not to unjustly single out Roma as the target of any new crackdown.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

Berlusconi promised to get tough on illegal immigration during his campaign

The Italian government on Wednesday will discuss new laws such as re-imposing border checks, increased deportations, making illegal immigration a custodial offense and turning holding centers into detention camps.

The government has also said it would appoint special "Roma commissioners" in some cities.

But on Tuesday, May 20, EU Employment Commissioner Vladimir Spidla said the Commission would watch the situation in Italy in light of the package of proposals. He said Romanians had the freedom to move within the EU and could not be treated differently from any other citizens from the 27-member bloc. Many ethnic Roma come from Romania, which joined the EU in 2007.

Crimes committed by foreigners, especially Roma or gypsies, became a major political issue during Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's election campaign. He promised to get tough on such crimes if elected.

Italians target Roma in violent incidents

Roma immigrants have been targeted in violent incidents recently by Italian civilians attempting to take the law into their own hands.

Last week, an illegal Roma camp in Naples was evacuated after locals set fire to the shacks, responding to reports that a Roma girl had apparently tried to kidnap an Italian baby.

The incident was the latest of a series of high profile cases involving Italy's Roma community.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said the government intends to dismantle Roma camps which are present in and around many of Italy's major cities.

Italy's new European affairs minister, Andrea Ronchi said "it is no longer possible to let illegal immigrants commit crimes unpunished."

Germany expresses concern

But Rome's new anti-immigration drive prompted concern from other EU countries.

According to Michael Roth, a parliamentary spokesman on European policy for Germany's ruling Social Democrats (SPD), the Berlusconi government "is already showing its lack of respect for basic European rights."

"The pogrom-like attacks on Roma and other minorities give grounds for great concern," he said in a statement.

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