EU lawmakers on Thursday, July 10 urged Italy to stop fingerprinting its Roma and Sinti population as part of a crackdown on crime, sparking an indignant reaction from Rome.
Italy is home to an estimated 160,000 Roma and Sinti people
Calling the practice a direct act of discrimination, EU lawmakers on Thursday, June 10, pressed Italy to drop plans to fingerprint Roma and Sinti living in some 700 camps in the country.
In a resolution, adopted by 336 votes for, 220 against and 77 abstentions, members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg urged Italy to end the practice until the European Commission could investigate.
The assembly "urges the Italian authorities to refrain from collecting fingerprints from Roma, including minors, as this would clearly constitute an act of discrimination based on race and ethnic origin," the resolution read.
Italy rejects "accusations of racism"
The move prompted a swift reaction from Rome with Italy's European Affairs Minister Andrea Rochi slamming what he called "accusations of racism."
"Today's resolution by the European Parliament is one of the worst aspects of the EU institutions," Rochi said. "We reject with vigor and indignation the accusations of racism."
A "Roma emergency"
The Italian government has evoked a "Roma emergency" in large cities like Milan, Rome and Naples and said it plans to close unauthorized camps by May 2009 and repatriate people who are in Italy illegally.
A Roma shack in Italy
The measure comes more than a month after several gypsy camps in southern Italy were torched forcing Roma inhabitants to flee under police protection. The arson attacks were triggered by violent protests after a Roma youth was accused of trying to kidnap an Italian baby.
Roma people, known in Italy as "nomads" are blamed for most of the violence which Silvio Berlusconi's new government pins on illegal immigrants.
Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, a member of the right-wing Northern League party in Berlusconi's centre-right coalition, said last week the idea behind the census was to put an end to illegal camps and guarantee security to Italian citizens.
Children would also be fingerprinted "to prevent phenomena such as begging," Maroni said, adding that in many cases, people are living in camps in "sub-human conditions where children are forced to live with rats."
The Italian government has defended its actions, saying it is within the realm of existing Italian laws and EU directives.
About half of the estimated 160,000 Roma and Sinti people living in Italy are Italian citizens, another 20 percent are citizens of other EU countries while the remainder come from the countries that once made up Yugoslavia.
Last month, some 3,000 Roma and Sinti took to the streets of Rome to protest against alleged xenophobia against them amid widespread anger among Italians who blame them for rising crime and insecurity.
A Roma street child on the streets of the Albanian capital Tirana
A recent study by the European Commission on the discrimination faced by the Roma found their life expectancy is 10-15 years lower than those of other Europeans.
Roma are particularly exposed to high poverty and unemployment, and those who work usually do so illegally, the report said.