MEPs call on Italy to halt Gypsy fingerprinting

European parliament says fingerprinting of Gypsies amounts to racial discrimination

The European parliament today urged the Italian government to stop the fingerprinting of Gypsies, saying it was racial discrimination.

The assembly agreed a resolution saying the practice was not supported by EU human rights treaties and insisting EU citizens of Roma or Gypsy origin must be treated equally to others in Italy.

Roma fingerprinting has been taken up by Italian authorities as part of a wider crackdown on street crime and to identify illegal immigrants for expulsion.

Today's resolution came after the parliament asked the European commission to check whether the practice violated EU law. Italy said the presence of Gypsy camps around large cities allowed for government emergency action, but the MEPs called the measures disproportionate and inappropriate.

Many Gypsies living in and around Naples have been pictured in local newspapers with gloved officials taking fingerprints from their ink-stained hands. Evidence from papers filed in Naples showed officials were identifying those fingerprinted according to their religion, ethnicity and education level.

Authorities are expected to move in on camps in other cities such as Rome and Milan in coming days. More than 700 encampments have been built in Italy, housing some 7-9 million Gypsies in squalid conditions.

The parliamentary resolution, which was approved by 336 votes to 220, is not binding but puts political pressure on Italy to refrain from the fingerprinting.

Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister and former EU justice commissioner, said the motion was politically motivated. The fingerprinting "does not target ethnic groups and is not inspired by racism but by the elementary need to identify anyone who does not have a valid document", he told Repubblica TV.

For decades, members of Europe's largest, poorest and fastest-growing minority have been at risk of social exclusion, despite many government programmes designed to help them. The EU itself has no effective policy in place to help integrate Gypsies into society.


Angela Balakrishnan and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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