The Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has landed himself in another controversy by linking immigrants to organised crime.
He was speaking at an anti-mafia conference in Calabria, where the ‘Ndrangheta has threatened bomb attacks. But what was intended as a show of strength from the state got overshadowed.
“A reduction in the number of foreigners means fewer people to fill the ranks of organized crime,” he said.
Later Berlusconi tried to limit the damage, saying he meant only illegal immigrants. But human rights campaigners and opposition politicians say defining immigration in terms of criminality encourages prejudice.
Democratic Party MP Livia Turco said:
“These declarations are very grave – a real incitement for racism. They are also absolutely unfounded because the immigrants who live in our country are necessary for our economy.”
The controversy comes weeks after violence erupted in southern Italy. Seasonal workers from Africa protested against racist attacks and their living conditions. There are fears that Berlusconi’s latest declaration could inflame more conflict.