Sixty-eight percent of Italians, fueled by often inflammatory attacks by the new rightwing government, want to see all of the country's 150,000 Gypsies — many of them Italian citizens — expelled, an opinion poll showed.
The survey, published as mobs in Naples burned down Gypsy camps last week, revealed that the majority also wanted all Gypsy camps in Italy to be demolished.
About 70,000 Gypsies in Italy hold Italian passports, including about 30,000 descended from 15th-century Gypsy settlers in the country. The remainder have arrived since, many fleeing the Balkans during the 1990s.
Another 10,000 Gypsies came from Romania after it joined the EU in January last year, said EveryOne, an Italian human-rights organization.
Romanians were among the 268 immigrants rounded up in a nationwide police crackdown on prostitution and drug dealing this week, after new Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s likening of foreign criminals to “an army of evil.”
But Romanian officials have sought to distinguish between the Romanians and Romanian Gypsies entering Italy.
Flavio Tosi, the mayor of Verona and a member of the anti- immigrant Northern League party, said his city had the biggest Romanian community in Italy, 7,000 strong, “working as builders, artisans and domestics. And they themselves say the Roma [Gypsies] are a problem,” he said.
In a second poll, 81 percent of Italian respondents said they found all Gypsies, Romanian or not, “barely likeable or not likeable at all,” a greater number than the 61 percent who said they felt the same way about non-Gypsy Romanians.
Young Neapolitans who threw Molotov cocktails into a Naples Gypsy camp last week, after a girl was accused of trying to abduct a baby, bragged that they were undertaking “ethnic cleansing.” A UN spokeswoman compared the scenes to the forced migration of Gypsies from the Balkans. “We never thought we’d see such images in Italy,” Laura Boldrini said.
“This hostility is a result of the generally inflammatory language of the current government, as well as the previous one,” said EveryOne director Matteo Pegoraro. “Italian football stars at Milan teams assumed to have Gypsy heritage, such as Andrea Pirlo, are now also the subject of threatening chants.”
Commenting on the attacks in Naples, Umberto Bossi, the head of the Northern League party said: “People are going to do what the political class cannot.”
Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said yesterday he would consider deploying soldiers to the streets to help fight crime, while a group of Bosnian Gypsies in Rome said they were mounting night guard patrols of their camp to defend against vigilante attacks.
Europe’s leading human rights watchdog urged the government to prevent attacks on Roma communities.