Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Italian xenophobia sinks deeper

Europe, for all its diversity, can be remarkably provincial. The latest Italian government came to power two months ago on a platform promising to crack down on illegal foreigners, who immigration opponents here say are associated with crime.

Last month the Italian police arrested hundreds of migrants living in shantytowns. Vigilantes attacked Gypsy encampments near Naples in May after reports of a 16-year-old Gypsy girl’s trying to steal a baby.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s new government has just proposed one of the strictest anti-immigration laws on the Continent, provoking heated opposition from human-rights organizations, the Vatican, the United Nations and also Italian prosecutors fearing courts swamped by criminal cases.

But with plummeting birth rates and an aging populace, Italy can hardly survive now without foreign laborers. Albanians and Romanians care for the elderly. Indians working in Emilia-Romagna tend the cows producing the milk for Parmesan cheese.