Italy’s new government plans to carry out a census of the Roma community with an eye to kicking out anyone staying in the country illegally, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said on Monday.
“Unfortunately we will have to keep the Italian Roma because we can’t expel them,” Salvini, who is head of the far-right League, told television station Telelombardia.
Salvini set off a storm in Europe last week when he refused to let a charity ship carrying more than 600 mainly African migrants dock in Italy.
Spain eventually took in the boat, with Salvini saying Italy would no longer automatically take in boat migrants, who have used Libya as a springboard in recent years to seek a richer, safer life in Europe.
Turning his attention to another group that has often been the target of League ire, Salvini said his ministry was looking at “the Roma question” and wanted to see “who, and how many” there were.
Tens of thousands of Roma, also known as “gypsies” and “nomads”, live across Italy, many in squalid shantytowns on the outskirts of major cities and on the fringes of society.
Salvini’s comments drew an immediate barrage of criticism, with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) saying his call revived memories of “ethnic cleansing”.
In a subsequent statement, Salvini said the government had no intention of setting up a separate archive for the Roma or taking finger prints, but wanted to protect Roma children who were barred from going to local schools by their parents.
He added that he wanted to check how European Union funds aimed at helping marginalised communities were being spent.