Page last updated at 21:56 GMT, Wednesday, 15 October 2008 22:56 UK

Italy proposes immigrant classes

Italian police at a Roma squatter camp in Naples (file image)
Recent Italian policies towards immigrants have attracted criticism

A controversial scheme to create special classes for immigrant children has been approved by the lower house of Italy's parliament.

The measure, proposed by the right-wing Northern League Party, would require foreign children to pass a special test before being admitted into schools.

The league says the proposal will help integration, but opposition leaders have denounced it as xenophobic.

The measure still has to be approved by the Senate before it becomes law.

Under the proposal, the children of immigrants would have to sit tests on citizenship and would be placed in "bridge classes" if they failed, where they would study Italian language, law and culture until they could pass the test.

A spokesman for the Northern League said the aim was to guarantee equal opportunities for foreign students and facilitate integration.

But opposition politicians have described it as "an act of the worst xenophobia".

"Today day we create special classes for foreign pupils, tomorrow for the disabled, the day after for homosexuals," said one critic.

The lower house of parliament passed the measure in a vote of 265 to 246.

Crime fear

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy in Rome says the Northern League, which is part of the Italy's centre-right government coalition, has long taken a robust stand on immigration issues.

Last week, it proposed plans for a residecy permit system based on points, which would be deducted for criminal activity. Immigrants would face deportation if their points ran out.

And earlier this year, the league was behind the introduction of an internationally condemned scheme to fingerprint Roma gypsies.

The league says it is only responding to the fears of many Italians especially over crime which it claims involves a high proportion of foreigners, says our correspondent.

Critics says the measures border on racism and fuel social tensions which have already led to a series of violent attacks involving minorities.

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