Thursday, November 8, 2007

Romanian leader seeks to calm Italian anger over immigrant crime

International Herald Tribune
By Ian Fisher
Wednesday, November 7, 2007

ROME: The Romanian prime minister visited Italy on Wednesday to defuse a week of anger here after the beating death of an Italian woman exploded into a national debate on immigration and crime.

About three dozen immigrants have been expelled since then, with calls from the center-right opposition for many more. "Romania does not want in any way to export criminality," the prime minister, Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, said here after a two-hour meeting with his Italian counterpart, Romano Prodi. "I cannot permit any transgressions of the law by Romanians either at home or abroad."

The two men agreed to find ways to better integrate the huge influx of Romanians to Italy since Romania joined the European Union this year. In recent days, Romanians - and more specifically Roma, also known as gypsies - have been accused of committing a disproportionate number of violent crimes here. The killing of the Italian woman, Giovanna Reggiani, 47, who was sexually molested and beaten at a train station in Rome last week, uncorked a surge of emotion and uncertainty in Italy, which only a generation ago was still exporting immigrants.

According to the Catholic charity Caritas, there are now 3.7 million immigrants in Italy, making up 6.2 percent of the population. An estimated 560,000 of the immigrants are from Romania. "Nobody could expect that," Prodi said in an interview published in The Financial Times on Wednesday. "Psychologically and socially, the speed and the impact is incredible."

Immediately after the killing, Prodi's center-left government approved an emergency decree permitting the expulsion of immigrants deemed dangerous and a reported three dozen people, mostly Romanian, were forced to leave Italy. But amid a charged political debate on making that decree permanent, anger remains high, as does the potential for violence: On Friday night, three Romanians were hurt, one seriously, after being attacked in Rome by a mob armed with knives and metal bars.

While apologizing for crimes committed by Romanians, the Romanian leader said he had come to Italy to "ensure safety for the Romanians who work and lead an honest life in Italy and who represent the vast majority of Romanians there." He said he was also worried a rising "xenophobia" against Romanians in Italy.

He and Prodi agreed to a package of measures, including more Romanian police officers in Italy, better border controls and new ways to integrate immigrants into Italy. The two men also wrote a letter to the European Commission asking for help for countries that receive immigrants from other EU nations and asked for a Europe-wide strategy for integrating the Roma. "The destination member states don't have on their own the means to confront the difficulties that face them," the letter read.

Although Prodi has pledged that there will be no "mass deportations," the center-right opposition is calling for much tougher measures, including the right to expel immigrants who have not been proven a threat. After the killing, Gianfranco Fini, leader of the opposition National Alliance, directly took on the delicate question of criminality among the Roma, saying that they "are not able to be integrated into our society." But even more centrist politicians have expressed worry about criminality, particularly among Romanians. Walter Veltroni, Rome's mayor and leader of the centrist Democratic Party, said three-quarters of all arrests in the city last year were of Romanians.

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