Italy murder case sparks immigration debate

Newsroom 13/11/2007 | 17:46

The murder of an Italian woman by a Romanian immigrant sparked a wave of anti-Romanian rhetoric in Italy two weeks ago. Giovanna Reggiani, 47, the wife of an Italian admiral, was attacked in Rome and died from her injuries two days later. The suspect, Nicolae Romulus Mailat, was arrested after an eyewitness – a Romanian woman – came forward to the authorities. According to the Romanian Central Bank, over the past three years, the 500,000 Romanian workers in Italy have sent home EUR 3.5 billion. Central Bank officials say that Italy has no interest in sending Romanian workers home and it is expected that the transfers next year will be at least at the same level as this year.

Rapid repercussions
The Italian backlash against Romanians rapidly reached local attention. Ioana M, a 14-year-old Romanian, studies in a school where Romanian immigrants have been the victims of several xenophobic incidents in recent days, according to media reports. During one of the classes, her Italian teacher asked the pupils what they thought about the recent tensions between Romanians and Italians. Some students expressed their approval while others strongly disapproved of the issue. However, the Italian teacher interrupted the heated debate on the grounds that there were four students of Romanian origin in the class. Some of Ioana's friends said that the teacher declared that if Romanians were violent, they should remain in their country. In another recent incident, a bomb was placed in front of a Romanian food store in Monterotondo, near Rome. Many Romanian entrepreneurs are worried and fear for their lives. ” We are concerned about what is happening. Many of us started from scratch and invested lots of money and also all of our time. Lots of us have Italian employees. We hope that the Monterotondo incident will be an isolated one,” said Gheorghita Mihoc, president of the Romanian Small Business Association in Rome. Members of the Romanian League in Italy have sent an open letter to the Romanian president, Traian Basescu, PM Calin Popescu-Tariceanu and the foreign affairs minister Adrian Cioroianu, voicing their concern that their children might be the next victims in a surge of tension between Romanian workers in Italy and local communities.

Pope, president, prime ministers have their say
The situation has begun to degenerate and the atmosphere there is tense. The Romanian authorities asked for the pope's support to calm local spirits. The reply came quickly from Pope Benedict XVI who expressed his hope that relations between the Romanian immigrants and the Italians will improve, “in a spirit of high moral standards.” Meanwhile, Romanian politicians have followed each other to Italy to make pacifying statements. Tariceanu left for Rome to try to find a solution to the ongoing crisis with the Italian government. The prime minister said in a recent interview that the goals are to “limit the amount of crimes” committed by Romanians in Italy, as well as to protect the honest workers from xenophobic acts. PM Tariceanu demanded that the Italian authorities offer a plan for the social integration of unemployed Romanian immigrants and to clarify – according to EU regulations – the rights of the Romanian citizens who are threatened with expulsion from Italy. Common measures to prevent and fight crimes committed by Romanians are also expected to take shape after the meeting between Tariceanu and Italian PM Romano Prodi. “Some 17 Romanian police officers will go to Italy to help local authorities. Our competences on other state territories are to identify possible Romanian offenders, and to offer assistance to the Italian police department,” said Sarmizia Fetcu, a spokesperson for the Romanian General Police Inspectorate.

Foreign ministry takes flak
Although in the past few days the Italian media has softened its tone with the message “'Romanians are a friendly people,” the Italian government has already moved to expel immigrants whom it believes pose a threat towards its citizens. The draft law presented to the EP will be debated soon. European Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security Franco Frattini will participate in the debate. The commission's official opinion on the situation is that it is “open for collaboration with all member states, regarding any clear demand.” One of the Romanian institutions that received many complaints was the Romanian Foreign Ministry. Traian Basescu criticized the activity of the country's embassies and consulates abroad, while Cioroianu stated that “those committing crimes in Italy should be sent to disciplinary camps in Egypt.” Nine Romanian non-governmental organizations sent an open letter to the PM on Monday calling for the resignation of the foreign minister.Meanwhile, the murder that sparked the furore has garnered extensive coverage in the international press. The Economist has criticized Italian politicians and media outlets for their opportunistic response to the killing. It critcized the decree that the Italian cabinet had issued giving local authorities the power to expel immigrants from other EU countries, a move it said was aimed openly at Romanians. The publication accused the document of exaggerating the number of crimes committed by Romanian citizens in Italy in an attempt to ratchet up natioanlism and score political points.

Economic relations, where to?
Romanian representatives of the Economy and Finance Ministry have highlighted the importance of the economic ties between Italy and Romania. In September there were over 23,500 companies registered with a total Italian capital invested of EUR 805 million. The most important Italian investments are in domains such as energy, wood-processing, construction, textiles, and home appliances. In July, the entire value of exports to Italy reached EUR 3.02 billion, a growth of 9.19 percent compared with the same period of 2006, while imports totaled EUR 3.88 billion, an increase of 19.92 percent compared with the same period last year. Italy is also one of Romania's partners in the project for the Constanta-Trieste Pan European Oil Pipeline, a project backed by the European Commission in order to diversify oil transportation and origin. The economy minister said that the present situation must be resolved with calm and reason. “The Romanian government appreciates the position of the Minister Council president, Romano Prodi, concerning the contribution of Romanians to the economic development of Italy. What has happened in Italy in the past few days is regrettable, but is an isolated case. We believe that a rational approach, far from a political speech, can solve the problem of Romanian immigrants. We are both European Union states with full rights,” said the finance minister, Varujan Vosganian.

Dana Ciuraru

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