The following response was originally published by the European Voice. James A. Goldston is director of the Open Society Justice Initiative.
It is welcome news that the European Commission is pressing Italy to provide it with full information on a new immigration law. But the headline of your article last week—“Commission questions Italy's immigration policy” (July 23-29)—runs the danger of suggesting that the European executive is doing all it can. That is not so.
Last autumn, the Commission noted that it would “wait and see” how Italy was implementing a range of measures designed to crack down on immigrants and Roma. Nine months have passed with little to show.
In the meantime, the situation is deteriorating, as your article made clear.
The "security package" that passed through the Italian parliament on July 2 makes entry without permission a crime, authorizes local vigilante groups to patrol the streets and has already prompted some migrants to go without necessary health care, for fear that public-health officials may report them to the police.
In addition, Italy's new policy of intercepting migrants' boats and returning them to their country of origin without examining their situation would effectively eviscerate the right to asylum for people who the United Nations has warned are in need of international protection.
But we should also recall the broader background.
Since Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi swept to power in elections nearly 15 months ago, vicious speech, racist violence, and immigrant sweeps have increased.
From Berlusconi on down, Italian politicians have publicly disparaged those who look different in a manner that has appeared to legitimize acts of discrimination and violence. The brunt of this has fallen upon the Roma, many of whom are Italian citizens, and immigrants.
In spring 2008, the prime minister promulgated a “declaration of state of emergency” defining the mere presence of “irregular third-country citizens and nomads” as justification for a series of extraordinary measures including fingerprinting and photographs of all affected persons, including children.
The climate of official hostility has been enabled by the prime minister's domination of the broadcasting sector, both through private ownership and public control.
In no other major European country does the government exercise such sway over the media.
This situation not only discourages dissent; it also manufactures public insecurity about crime and immigration out of all proportion to reality.
The number of asylum applicants in Italy is far lower than in Germany or the UK and statistics suggest Rome is safer than Amsterdam or Copenhagen; but you wouldn't know that watching Italian TV.
The Commission needs to make it clearer than it has to date that Italy's breaches of fundamental human rights will no longer be tolerated.