Stephen Brown, AP, May 15, 2008
Italian police announced on Thursday the arrest of hundreds of suspected illegal immigrants in a sign of the new right-wing government’s determination to clamp down.
Police arrested 383 people including 268 foreigners, with 53 immediately taken to the border for expulsion, in a week-long operation stretching from northern Italy to the Naples area.
Silvio Berlusconi swept back to power for a third term as prime minister last week promising to get tough on illegal immigrants, blamed by many for crime. He is readying new laws to screen immigrants and jail or expel those breaking the law.
Those arrested came from Eastern Europe, Albania, Greece, North Africa and China and face charges ranging from illegal entry into Italy to prostitution, drug trafficking and robbery.
In Libya, police have arrested 240 would-be illegal migrants from several African countries over the past four days as they prepared to sail to Italy, the Interior Ministry said.
Libya is a springboard for hundreds of thousands of Africans trying to reach Europe via Italy on board unseaworthy boats.
Illegal Roma camps in Naples had to be evacuated by police this week after local people, angry at an alleged baby-snatching incident involving a 17-year-old Roma girl, set fire to their shacks repeatedly during the night. Nobody was injured.
Italy’s new interior minister, Roberto Maroni from the anti-immigrant Northern League party, is rushing out emergency laws to bring back passport checks on Italy’s EU borders, despite its membership of the Schengen passport-free zone.
“This operation against illegal immigrants is good because , it’s what people want. They ask us for security and we have to give it to them,” [Umberto Bossi, League leader] told reporters in parliament.