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Tuesday, 4 June, 2002, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
Italy toughens immigrant stance
Immigrants arriving in Italy
The bill also targets those who assist immigrants
The lower house of the Italian parliament has passed a series of anti-immigration measures swiftly condemned by opposition groups as "unjust and racist".

You're creating a climate of fear and hatred in this country

Luciano Violante
Opposition MP
The bill was approved by the conservative dominated house by 279 votes to 203, after a heated debate between the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the left-wing opposition.

Known as the Bossi-Fini law after its creators, it must also be approved by the upper house before it can become law.

If it passes this second hurdle, non-EU foreigners will only be able to live in the country if they have arranged work before entering, and they will receive a residency permit only for the duration of their employment contracts - up to a maximum of two years.

The bill also makes family reunions more difficult - immigrants will only be allowed to bring their children to join them if they are under 18.

The government, which has frequently linked immigration with crime, will make foreigners provide fingerprints for identification purposes, while those immigrants who return to the country after being expelled will be treated as if they have committed a crime.

"There aren't sufficient adjectives to describe this law," said Graziella Mascia, a member of the Refounded Communist Party told the house before the vote.

"It's unjust, fascist, disgusting, enslaving and racist."

Divisive issue

Umberto Bossi, leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League, championed the legislation after turning the issue of illegal immigration into a party cause.

Umberto Bossi, Northern League leader
Hardline minister Umberto Bossi championed the legislation
The issue gained fresh impetus after nearly 1,000 immigrants, mainly Iraqi Kurds, arrived in Sicily in March, prompting vehement criticism of the existing policy on immigration from the Northern League.

The attacks were dismissed as absurd and unfair by other members of the government, who underlined that people who travelled hundreds of miles under horrific conditions could not simply be turned back.

Luciano Violante, leader of the largest opposition party, says the bill will create a "climate of fear and hatred" against immigrants, and raised particular concerns over the prospect of fingerprinting all migrants.

The new bill also targets those who assist immigrants in reaching Italy's long, accessible coasts, from where many make their way into other countries of the European Union.

Smugglers face prison sentences of four to 12 years and a fine of 15,000 euros for each immigrant they bring into the country - punishments will be more severe if they bring more than five people into the country.

"It's undignified of a civil country to equate illegal immigrants with criminals and to say that those who help illegal immigrants are committing a grave crime," said Olivier Diliberto, leader of the Italian Communist Party.

See also:

20 Mar 02 | Europe
20 Mar 02 | Europe
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