Italy: Illegal immigrants top one million, says charity

Rome, 11 August (AKI) - Despite a tougher stance on immigration in Italy, immigrants have not been deterred from entering the country illegally. The Catholic relief organisation Caritas says the number of illegal immigrants now living in Italy has topped one million.

The figure is considerably higher than the number estimated by the United Nations' Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which says there are 500,000 to 750,000 illegal immigrants in Italy.

"There will always be people searching for work from poor countries and this number is increasing," a senior official from Caritas in Rome told Adnkronos International (AKI).

"Even with new immigration laws, they will find their way across the border."

Caritas estimates the number of immigrants is higher than other figures, based on the demand for its services in offices located throughout Italy.

The organisation believes that for every immigrant working in the home as cleaning personnel or home help, there is at least one other illegal immigrant in the country.

"There will always be people working and living in Italy with out permits to stay," the official told AKI.

He explained that a majority of these immigrants already live and even work in Italy but they do not have a permit of stay. They often work in the home or in elderly care.

Caritas has expressed concern about the exploitation of illegal immigrants by employers but under new immigration laws employers will be under more pressure to ensure their workers function legally.

Under the provisions of the new law passed by the parliament in July, people entering Italy without permission face fines of up to 10,000 euros and could be expelled immediately.

Anyone renting housing to an illegal immigrant faces up to three years in prison and there is also provision for citizen vigilante groups which are expected to be established soon.

Italy in May returned to Libya migrants rescued or intercepted at sea in international waters, triggering criticism from the Vatican and the United Nations refugee agency.

The repatriations followed a deal Italy struck with Libya last year to combat people trafficking in the Mediterranean.

European Union laws oblige the 25 countries that are part of the Schengen agreement to allow illegal immigrants to make two so-called mistakes, but there are fears that the new Italian law will make it easier to exploit this provision.

Caritas officials said they had seen an increase in the incidence of violence against immigrants recently following the introduction of the new law.


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