Statewatch News Online: Italy: Murder causes anti-Romanian backlash and opens way for the expulsion of EU nationals

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Murder causes anti-Romanian backlash and opens way for the expulsion of EU nationals

The murder on 30 October 2007 of Giovanna Reggiani, a 47-year-old woman, during a mugging in Rome's Tor di Quinto neighbourhood, in an unlit road near the train station, sparked a backlash against the Romanian and Roma communities, after it surfaced that the alleged murderer, Nicolae Mailat, was a Romanian living in a nearby Roma camp.

Mailat admits to stealing Reggiani's bag and shoving her, but denies killing and raping her, although investigators are not convinced by his claims. Investigations as to whether she was raped, as has been widely reported, are underway. The government responded through an extraordinary cabinet meeting at which it was decided to fast-track the application of a legislative decree that was agreed a few days earlier as part of a "security package" comprising five decrees to be converted into law (including the establishment of a DNA database, increasing powers of mayors and police chiefs, increased penalties to sanction violent football fans, drunk drivers, people causing criminal damage, the production, smuggling and sale of counterfeit goods, false accounting and tax fraud, and to defend tobacconists and confiscate the assets of Mafia members) and containing "urgent provisions for removals from Italian territory for public safety reasons" and affecting EU nationals.

Judicial scrutiny of expulsions was limited, for cases deemed "urgent" or involving "imperative public security reasons", to possible appeals by the recipients of expulsion orders after the event, as local police chiefs were granted authority to order and conduct immediate expulsions. The prohibition of re-entry following expulsion, allowed for a maximum of three years, was transformed from an offence entailing three months to one year's arrest and the payment of a fine, into a crime resulting in a custodial sentence of up to three years.

The decree has been in force since its publication in the Gazzetta Ufficiale (Official Journal) on 2 November 2007, although it has two months to be confirmed after undergoing parliamentary scrutiny, or be dropped.

Protests from Romanian authorities, concern over the measure's compatibility with EU legislation and requests from Rifondazione Comunista aimed at preventing the indiscriminate collective expulsion of Romanians may result in softening some of the most controversial aspects of the decree by the government, guaranteeing that it will not be supported by the centre-right opposition, which called for tougher measures.

As it currently stands, the decree amends articles 20, 21 and 22 (the section under the heading "limits to the right of entry and residence", re-named "limits to the right of entry and residence for public order or public security reasons") of the regulation on free movement of EU nationals passed in February 2007, to allow removal for "serious reasons of public order or security" [previously public order and public security], expanding the previous limit only allowing removal for "public security reasons that threaten the security of the state" to also include "imperative public security reasons", which also becomes a further reason (apart from a prior judicial decision) to rule out a suspension of the removal pending a decision on the appeal. If the repatriation is not suspended, the person will be allowed to return to attend key hearings concerning their appeal.

Public security concerns are deemed "imperative" if the EU citizen in question:

"has conducted himself in such a way as to compromise the safeguard of human dignity or fundamental rights of human being or public safety, making their stay in the national territory incompatible with ordinary co-existence".

"Urgency" and "imperative public security reasons" are the two criteria to be considered in order to avoid the requirement that expellees be given a notice of at least 30 days.

On 7 November, Interior Minister, Giuliano Amato, stated that there would be no "collective expulsions" and that any such measures would be taken on a "case by case basis". Although this should be obvious, considering that collective expulsions are forbidden by Italian law (in spite of cases in which it has been contravened, such as deportations from Lampedusa to Libya at the start of 2004), it was necessary to reaffirm the principle following statements by politicians in the wake of the murder.

Alleanza Nazionale (AN) leader Gianfranco Fini called for the expulsion of 20,000 people in Rome (an estimate backed by the Rome prefetto - head of police - Carlo Mosca) and between 200,000 and 250,000 throughout Italy. Fini visited the crime scene, criticised the government for being soft on illegal immigration and appeared comfortable using the word "Rom" as a synonym for criminal - in a populist anti-immigrant role that he had forsaken of late, resulting in a group led by Francesco Storace leaving AN to form a new party to its right, La Destra.

Fini demanded the immediate expulsion of foreign criminals, Roma, anyone responsible of committing offences, regardless of how petty, and people who were homeless or lacked means to sustain themselves. Fini suggested that these measures should be applied to any EU citizens, that is, that if they could not prove they were employed or had means to sustain themselves after three months in the country, they should be expelled. Supposedly moderate and left or centre-left politicians did not escape the hysteria, with Rome mayor Walter Veltroni, referring to an "absolute preponderance of crimes committed by Romanian citizens" and to the "migratory flow from Romania" since its entry into the EU, being "unsustainable for Italian cities".

In RAI's (Italian public broadcasting company) Porta a Porta programme on 5 November 2006, Gianfranco Fini and Pietro Fassino (representing the governing coalition) found themselves agreeing on the need to promote measures at a European level to enable the expulsion of EU nationals. To his credit, Fassino noted that criminalisation plays a part in the genesis of criminal behaviour and noted that Italians have migrated extensively in the past, facing similar problems to those currently affecting migrants in Italy. He also noted that crimes committed by Italians did not receive the same treatment as those committed by foreigners - a former soldier shot at passers-by in a street in Guidonia a few days later, killing two. In the latter case, extrapolations were not drawn with regards to either Italian people or military personnel having a tendency to kill people, as did happen for Romanians. At the funeral, Giovanna Reggiani's family expressed their opposition to the murder being used to fuel racial hatred.

Since the day after the murder, the police proceeded to search many Roma camps around Rome looking for candidates for expulsion - the inhabitants of the camp in Tor di Quinto where Mailat lived were evicted the day after the murder and the camp itself was subsequently razed to the ground -and elsewhere in Italy, including Florence, Bologna and Turin. Prefetti (local police chiefs) began ordering expulsions.

Repubblica reported on 4 November that 39 had already been carried out (17 in Genoa, 7 in Bologna, 4 in Milan and Lecce, 3 in Rome, 2 in Florence and Turin). News also surfaced of a punitive raid in Rome against four Romanians -three of whom were hospitalized - in the car park of a Lidl supermarket in Tor Bella Monaca by around ten men wearing balaclavas and wielding sticks and knives. Further intimidatory acts took place, including threatening graffiti and attempted arson attacks against a Romanian and a Muslim grocery store, right-wing marches, and chanting against footballers in stadiums, most notably the Romanian Adrian Mutu, playing in Rome against Lazio for Fiorentina.

The issue resulted in a diplomatic incident with Romania, whose PM Calin Pobescu Tiriceanu asked the EU to ascertain whether the decree was in line with European regulations, described the reaction against Romanians as "xenophobic", with President Basescu claiming that "Romanians feel threatened".

The two governments bridged differences in a meeting between Prime Ministers Tiriceanu and Romano Prodi in Rome on 7 November 2007. They agreed to set up an interministerial joint working group to study the issue of Roma people and an Italian-Romanian police task force involving around 30 Romanian officers. They wrote a joint letter asking the European Commission to help deal with the Roma issue with funding to help social integration, and to loosen restrictions on repatriating EU nationals. In spite of the row cooling, Tiriceanu reiterated his criticism of Italian politicians "who lit the fire of controversy, the fire of xenophobia, also with fascist emphases that I did not expect to hear in Italy", not only in reference to the Lega Nord, whose former minister Roberto Calderoli supported vigilante action as "the only legitimate form of self-defence", but also to Veltroni, the recently elected leader of the newly-established unitary centre-left Partito Democratico: "I realise that there are very difficult situations in Rome concerning Roma living in shacks, but I would have expected more integration and less police".

Decreto legge 1 novembre 2007, n. 181, "Disposizioni urgenti in material di allontanamento dal territorio nazionale per esigenze di pubblica sicurezza"

DECRETO LEGISLATIVO 6 febbraio 2007, n. 30 Attuazione della direttiva 2004/38/CE relativa al diritto dei cittadini dell'Unione e dei loro familiari di circolare e di soggiornare liberamente nel territorio degli Stati membri

Porta a Porta, 5.11.07; Repubblica, 31.10.07, 1, 4-5.11.07; il manifesto, 3, 8.11.07; Corriere della Sera, 1.11.07.

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