Spain, Italy: Two Tactics for Tackling Illegal Immigration

Article excerpt

Miriana spends her nights sleeping in a park, and her days hunched on a stoop outside a Madrid shop, begging for money. The young woman admits that she earned more in Italy, where she lived for a year. But for this Romanian immigrant, who is also ethnically Roma (or gypsy), the decision to move to Spain was easy.

"Here, the people are better," she explains in broken Spanish. "They don't have as much hate."

Both Spain and Italy, situated across from Africa on the Mediterranean coast, have faced huge influxes of illegal immigrants over the past couple of years - 18,000 intercepted by Spain last year alone, and 12,000 by Italy so far this year. But their governments, though sharing a conviction that the problem urgently needs to be curbed, have taken different approaches to reach that common goal.

While Spain struggles to find the balance between limiting immigration and protecting human rights, Italy has implemented state of emergency measures and even fingerprinting of Roma - measures decried as "xenophobic" by the human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg.

"The Spanish government has a very strict policy," says Roberto Malini, president of the Italian human rights organization EveryOne. "The Italians have an intimidatory policy: the idea is to scare immigrants, so that when they go home, they can tell their countrymen that Italy is no place for foreigners."

Italy: State of emergency

On July 25, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government passed a decree that allows the government to use military troops to monitor the country's 16 immigrant internment centers and to deploy another 3,000 soldiers to several cities in an effort to control crime, which is often blamed on immigrants.

Parliament also recently passed a law specifying that illegal immigrants convicted of crimes can be held for up to a third longer than Italians convicted of the same felony. Property rented to illegal immigrants can be confiscated under the new legislation.

These steps have troubled human rights activists. "At the identification centers used to hold North Africans, immigrants often face violence and intimidation," says Mr. Malini. "But they're not in a position to complain, because they'll be expelled."

Italy's measures have hit the Roma most severely. Though some have lived in Italy for years, many came from Romania when that country joined the European Union in 2007. Berlusconi's predecessor, former Prime Minister Romano Prodi, had ordered some deportations of Roma, despite their EU citizenship. Under Mr. Berlusconi, Italy has gone further, initiating a census of Roma that began in June and included fingerprinting.

This discrimination has been fed by media headlines such as "Invasion of the Nomads. …