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Italians have always been a tolerant people. Since the Roman Empire they have given visitors to their country a generous welcome, no matter what their country of origin is or what culture they have inherited 1. However, recently there have been several events, largely involving non-European immigration (the process of entering and then living in a non-native country for a period of time), that appear to show that this long held attitude has changed. For example, immigration laws have been tightened and new anti-terror laws have recently been introduced which have already had a strong impact on immigrants 2. There have been several cases of alleged abuse of immigrants by the authorities 3. The aim of this essay is to analyse Italy's reaction to recent wave of non-European immigration into their country. The essay begins with a description of the present immigration situation before analysing the negativity of Italy's reaction to non-European immigrants and then analysing the positive parts of their reactions to these non-European immigrants.
In a recent European Industrial Relations Observatory article, authors Domenico Paparella and Vilma Rinolfi listed some known facts about immigration to Italy. Over the last 20 years, Italy has had many immigrants enter its territory. Due to its position in the centre of the Mediterranean Ocean and the fact that there are over 8000km of coastline, Italy is generally considered the most popular entrance to Europe for immigrants. On 31 December 2000, it was officially reported that there were over 1.2 million non-EU citizens in Italy (691,311 men and 545,044 women). The density of population of immigrants is highest in the centre of Italy, followed by the North, South and the islands. The economic gaps between the various areas of Italy have a strong impact on immigrant's work. In the North, for example, where there is a very low unemployment rate, immigrants are usually involved in industrial work, often on a permanent basis. In the South, however, non-EU workers are mainly employed in seasonal work and in the clandestine underground economy, particularly in the agriculture and building sectors. Paparella and Rinolfi also claim that there are also many illegal immigrants in the country, though it is difficult to establish their exact number. According to them, Caritas (the agency of the Catholic Church responsible for assisting illegal immigrants) believes there are about one million illegal immigrants in Italy 4. It is widely accepted that these illegal immigrants are the main cause of the immigration laws being tightened recently, as immigration (particularly illegal immigration) is one of the most popular topics for debate in Italy presently.
Arguably the strongest indication of Italy's change of attitude towards non-European immigrants is the recent strengthening of their immigration laws. In July 2002, according to the University of Trento in Italy, the Italian deputy prime minister Gianfranco Fini and another leading Italian politician at the time Umberto Bossi created a new immigration law which amended the previous immigration law of 1998. This law is officially known as law, no. 189/2002, but is also commonly known as the Bossi-Fini Law and came into force on 26th August 2002. The university also provide some information on some of the key aspects of the new law, which include the restriction of parents and children joining immigrants in Italy, the increase of the period of residence required for residence permits for non-EU citizens from five to six years and the recording of all immigrants' fingerprints who are applying for a stay permit in Italy to cover more then 90 days upon their first entry into Italy 5.
Unfortunately for Fini and Bossi, however, the law has not been as popular as they would have hoped, as it has endured heavy criticism from both the trade unions and employers' associations. Paparella and Rinolfi believe the trade unions are unhappy that an immigrant's residence in Italy is now almost exclusively linked to possession and length of an employment contract. Oberdan Ciucci, the president of Anolf-Cisl- the association of immigrant workers affiliated to the Italian Confederation of Workers' Unions- stated that "The law was developed to comply with the intolerance of some people against immigrant people â€¦ the policies carried out by the Berlusconi government do not tackle the problem and will result in an abnormal increase in irregular and illegal immigrants" 4. The new law has also caused several high profile protests, perhaps most notably the demonstration in Rome on Saturday December 3rd 2003, which, according to a Yahoo! News report at the time, had over 30,000 participants, mostly immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and Asia but also including members of various associations fighting for immigrants' rights. However, the public reaction could have been much worse had the Italian High Court not altered certain parts of the law for being unconstitutional 6.
Like most other major European countries in the post-9/11 world, Italy has strongly tightened its security and anti-terror laws in order to protect itself, particularly in the last few months following the July 7th terrorism attacks in Britain. Interior Minister Giuseppe Pessano has been quoted in a BBC News report as saying that "terrorism is knocking on Italy's door". It has also been recently reported by the BBC that a new list of security proposals have been passed, including more intense scrutiny of non-EU immigrants who are already subject to criminal investigations. If they are considered a threat to public order or state security, they will be summarily expelled 7. The banning of anything that hides facial features, including the Islamic Burqa, was also included in these proposals 2. While immigrants have not been happy with some of these new laws, the Italian public appears to have so far given these new laws a good reception, but it is too early to say how successful an impact they will have. It is interesting, however, to note that while the Bossi-Fini Law met with such a volatile reception, the immigrant related parts of these laws have been generally accepted.
Recently there have been several tragic incidents involving illegal immigrants taking place in Italy. For example, it was widely reported in the media a few months ago that the bodies of at least 11 African immigrants, including several teenagers, were found dead on the coast of Sicily by Italian authorities. BBC News reported that more then 140 other immigrants were rescued from a nearby boat by coastguards. The survivors claimed they had made the trip from Libya and had paid more then $2000 for the journey. However, they are all expected to be sent back to their own countries due to the aforementioned new laws 8. In addition, according to an Amnesty International report, illegal immigrants who get to Italy consistently complain that they are "subjected to abuses" by the authorities. Amnesty International claim that holding centres, which held 15,647 people in 2004 (a 9% increase on 2003), "are often overcrowded and no legal assistance is offered to asylum seekers" 3. Incidents such as these have further served to highlight the dire situations of immigrants in Italy to the rest of the world, and have even led to claims of Italy violating the Geneva Convention laws referring to refugees 9.
So, given all these negative aspects of Italy's response to non-European immigration, what positive aspects are there? Firstly, it is clear from the many public demonstrations that have occurred due to immigration that there is a large amount of public support for immigrants in Italy by the common people. This is also supported by the vast amount of time given to news on immigration by the various forms of media. There have also been few noticeable incidents of incidents involving clashes between Italians and immigrants, so there appears to be a positive perception of immigration by the general public in Italy.
Immigrants have generally not struggled to find employment of some kind, though the type of employment available does vary according to location, as has already been explained. Indeed, with one fifth of its population over 65 according to BBC News reporter Tamsin Smith, Italy are more in need of carers for the elderly then ever before. Previously, the families themselves helped provide long term care for the elderly, but these families are shrinking and becoming less common. As a result, more professional carers have been required and, as few Italians wish to work as carers and fewer women are staying at home, immigrants are doing the job instead. This is occurring so often that 10% of the elderly in long term care are looked after by paid carers, compared with less than 1% in countries such as the UK, Germany and Sweden 10.
Immigration, both legal and illegal, has been becoming more common in recent years, despite attempts by the Italian government to slow it down by changing the immigration law. These new laws have received a largely negative reaction by the general public, immigrants, employers and trading unions. Anti-terrorism laws have also been enacted, some of which strongly restrict immigrants' lives, and there have been several disturbing tragic incidents involving immigrants. However, there have also been some positive events involving immigration in Italy, such as the large amount of public support for immigrants shown in Italy and the shrinking families creating new employment opportunities for immigrants as carers for the elderly. Despite these positive events, however, this essay concludes that the Italian reaction to the recent arrival of non-European immigrants has been mainly negative, mainly due to the huge restrictions placed on immigrants' lives by the recently passed laws.
Word Count: 1585 words
1. Willey, David, 'Italy prepares for new terrorism', BBC News, 4th August 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4745863.stm, accessed December 2005
2. Rowland, Jacky, 'Italian anti-terror law enacted', BBC News, 30th July 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4731711.stm, accessed December 2005
3. BBC News, 'Immigrants allege Italian abuses', BBC News, 20th June 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4111924.stm, accessed December 2005
4. Paparella, Domenico and Rinolfi, Vilma, 'New legislation regulates immigration', European Industrial Relations Observatory On-line, (Eironline), 26th September 2002, http://www.eiro.eurofound.eu.int/2002/09/feature/it0209103f.html, accessed December 2005
5. University of Trento, 'International: International co-operation and mobility - Law, no. 189/2002', University of Trento, July 8th 2005, http://www.unitn.it/en/internazionale/189/law_189_2002.htm, accessed December 2005
6. Yahoo! News, 'Tens of thousands protest Italian immigration law', Yahoo! News, http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20051203/lf_afp/italyimmigrationdemo_051203214042, accessed December 2005
7. BBC News, 'Italy to boost anti-terror steps', BBC News, 12th July 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4676743.stm, accessed December 2005
8. BBC News, 'Dead migrants washed up in Sicily', BBC News, 11th September 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4236214.stm, accessed December 2005
9. Horsley, William, 'Italy feels strain of migrant exodus', BBC News, 4th October 2004, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3714158.stm, accessed December 2005
10. Smith, Tamsin, 'Ageing Italy leans on immigrants', BBC News, 4th January 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4105431.stm, accessed December 2005