Page last updated at 17:21 GMT, Thursday, 10 July 2008 18:21 UK

Italy rebuke on Roma fingerprints

A Roma family stand near their home on the outskirts of Rome
The fingerprinting of Italy's Roma community has already begun

Italy's fingerprinting of members of the country's Roma community is a direct act of racial discrimination, the European Parliament has said.

In a resolution adopted by 336 votes to 220, MEPs called on Italy to bring the practice to an immediate halt.

Italy's foreign minister said the move was "politically motivated and based on prejudices" against the country.

The government says it has begun fingerprinting as part of a broader crackdown against crime.

The resolution called on Italy "to refrain from collecting the fingerprints from Roma, including minors, as this would clearly constitute an act of discrimination based on race and ethnic origin".

Strong message

It also "condemned utterly and without equivocation all forms of racism and discrimination faced by the Roma and those seen as 'gypsies'".

Italy's right-wing government introduced the fingerprinting measure saying it would cut crime, avoid children being used for begging and help identify illegal immigrants for expulsion.

An estimated 150,000 Roma live in Italy, mainly in squalid conditions in one of an estimated 700 encampments on the outskirts of major cities such as Rome, Milan and Naples.

Italian newspapers have published pictures of officials taking fingerprints from gypsies living in and around the southern city of Naples and filing the prints according to religion, ethnicity and level of education.

The European resolution, while non-binding, does send out a strong political message.

The lawmakers urged the European Commission to see if the Italian measures - which have also been criticised by UN children's agency Unicef - were violating European law.

But former EU Justice Commissioner and current Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini defended the measure which he said "does not target ethnic groups and is not inspired by racism but by the elementary need to identify anyone who does not have a valid document".

Italy police to protect Gypsies
14 May 08 |  Europe

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