Plans for census of Italy’s Roma people prompts comparison to fascist leader Benito Mussolini

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 5:42pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 6:01pm

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini hasn’t even been in office a month and he has already ruffled feathers at home and abroad. First, he refused to allow a rescue ship carrying hundreds of migrants to enter Italy, prompting an international stand-off that resulted in Spain agreeing to take them in.

And now he has sparked further tension in Italy, announcing he wants to implement a census of the Roma population and expel any non-Italians.

Critics are comparing the move to laws implemented by fascist leader Benito Mussolini, who discriminated against Jewish and Roma populations in the first half of the 20th century. Even Salvini’s partners in the Five Star Movement say an ethnically based census is unconstitutional.

“I’ve asked the ministry to prepare a dossier on the Roma question in Italy,” he said on Monday, adding that would involve organising a census to “see who, how, how many”.

There are around 180,000 Roma in Italy, and some are originally from Romania and former Yugoslavia. They have long faced discrimination across Europe. Last year, hundreds were evicted from an informal Roma settlement in Naples, in a move Amnesty International labelled as “cruel”. The human rights group also accused Italian authorities of “discrimination and segregation” of the Roma people.

Associazone 21 Luglio, a group that advocates for the Roma in Italy, says around 50 per cent of the population is Italian, and most of the rest are stateless.

The way is short from a census to a concentration camp
Chiara Gribaudo, Democratic Party

Italy’s populist government has promised to crack down on migration to Italy, and has called for mass deportations of migrants and asylum seekers. And Salvini has not masked his contempt for the Roma either. On Monday, he said that “unfortunately we will have to keep the Italian Roma because we can’t expel them.”

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Chiara Gribaudo, a deputy in the centre-left Democratic Party, said “the way is short from a census to a concentration camp”.

“Salvini apparently decided to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the racial laws,” she added.

Salvini said that tracking the Roma population would allow the government “to care for the children who aren’t allowed to go to school regularly because they prefer to introduce them to a life of crime.” But on Tuesday, after facing intense criticism for the proposal, Salvini doubled down on it.

“‘Census’ of Roma and control of public funds. If the left proposes it, it’s fine, if I propose it, it’s RACISM,” he wrote on Facebook. “I’m not backing down, and am going forward. Italians first and their security.”