Italy’s main anti-immigrant party, a pillar of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition, praised France’s expulsion of scores of Roma on Thursday as a model to follow.
Claudio d’Amico, a lawmaker with the Northern League, said he believed “the line adopted by France on repatriating the Roma is the right line to follow” as Italy mulls ways to deal with its own soaring immigration.
He said Rome would have to act “as quickly as possible” to block Roma expelled by France to Romania from heading to Italy.
“We have to give a strong signal to avoid that happening. It must be made clear to all, Roma and non-Roma, that in our country those who live on the edge and in volation of the law are not tolerated and mustn’t put a foot on Italian soil,” he said.
France on Thursday began expelling scores of Roma, packing them on planes and flying them back to Romania at the start of a crackdown ordered by President Nicolas Sarkozy which has drawn strong criticism at home.
Italy’s 160,000 Roma community has long been at the centre of debate over immigration policy and security, stoked repeatedly by the Northern League, an essential ally in Berlusconi’s return to power in 2008.
The coalition campaigned on pledges of cracking down on illegal immigration and crime, often linking the two.
Human rights groups like Amnesty International have criticised an increase in discrimination in Italy against groups like the Roma and African farm workers, who have come under violent attack in the south of the country.
Long a magnet for economic migrants from Africa, Italy earlier this year introduced a new policy to turn back immigrants before they arrive on Italian shores aboard boats from north Africa.