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The World

Rome March Supports Immigration

Italy: Thousands decry government's plan to tighten borders.

January 20, 2002|From Reuters

ROME — Tens of thousands of people, including thousands of immigrants calling for a "world without borders," protested in Rome on Saturday against Italy's plans to crack down on immigration.

There were no immediate reports of violence as the march moved through the streets accompanied by drums, music, chants, dances and flags.

Organizers said there were more than 100,000 protesters. Police did not provide an estimate.

At the head of the march, activists held a banner reading: "Against the racist law of the government." Others read: "No law can stop humanity" and "A world without borders."

"With this law, the government is creating more illegal immigrants and reduces their rights," said Livia Turco, a minister in the previous center-left administration who drafted the immigration law that the government is now trying to change.

The center-right government led by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, which had made tougher immigration laws a key part of its manifesto ahead of a general election that it won last May, said Italians back the government's plans.

"The law is aimed at making sure that workers staying in Italy for a limited period do not end up working in the black [market] economy," Deputy Interior Minister Alfredo Mantovano said last week.

Parliament is discussing the new law, which would allow non-European Union migrants to stay in Italy only with an employment contract and only as long as the contract lasts.

It would also make it easier to expel illegal immigrants, thousands of whom land on Italy's long coastline every year.

It provides no amnesty for illegal immigrants who already have jobs in Italy, except perhaps for domestic workers.

"The law poses too many obstacles to entry in Italy, risks producing more illegal immigrants . . . and makes them easier to exploit," said Miguel, a protester from Peru who has lived in Italy for nine years.

Italy has one of Europe's lowest percentages of immigrant populations, but anti-foreigner sentiment runs high.

According to a poll published in December, a third of Italians believe that immigration is the country's biggest problem.

Caritas, a leading Roman Catholic charity, estimates that 300,000 illegal immigrants are working in the underground economy.

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