An NGO has raised funds to pay for school lunches and bus fees for children of immigrant parents after an Italian city barred them from accessing the subsidies.
A new regulation in the northern Italian city of Lodi has prohibited dozens of migrant children from benefitting from government subsidies for meals offered by nursery and primary school canteens.
A spokesperson from Uguali Doveri, a local NGO fighting the directive, told Euronews that around 300 children in seven primary schools and five kindergartens are affected by the regulation.
Put in place by Casanova in 2017, the new statute orders non-native Italian parents to submit proof of funds in their country of origin to entitle their children to enjoy the benefits.
League-elected mayor Sara Casanova told an Italian news agency on Monday that the regulation "will certainly remain in force”.
Italian news website Il Post said many parents had struggled to obtain the proper documentation for it from their countries.
Without the benefits, families are charged the highest rate for meals in school canteens, meaning they have to pay €5 for every meal and €210 every three months for the school bus.
Additionally, not every school allows children to bring food from home, and the ones that do separate them from their classmates, Uguali Doveri's spokesperson said.
Before the new regulation came into effect, meal subsidies were guaranteed on the basis of the Equivalent Economic Situation Indicator (ISEE) — an index that helps establish the economic situation of a family.
What have the reactions been?
Casanova’s administration has come under fire for denying migrant children access to school canteens. Italy's minister of education Marco Bussetti said "children should never be exploited" and asked Lodi's council to find an alternative solution.
Filomena Albano, the head of Italy's child welfare authority, told La Repubblica that "excluding children from the canteen was a breach of their human rights" and called for them to be readmitted immediately.
Deputy Prime Minister and head of the anti-immigration League, Matteo Salvini, praised Casanova's new regulation in a Facebook post but said the council should accept declarations from migrant families "in good faith" in case they failed to provide the exact documents.
Uguali Doveri has raised €60,000 to fund the difference between full tariffs and the subsidies for migrant children.
The NGO put out a statement on Monday asking people to stop sending them donations since they had raised enough money to cover lunch and bus fees until the end of the year.
They also urged everyone to put pressure on the city council to cancel the regulation.
Casanova has since responded to criticisms of her new directive, saying: “I’m sorry that not everyone agrees with the principle of fairness that is at the basis of this resolution, which aims to put Italians and foreigners in the same position, to show their income and the assets they own.”
She added that her administration would work on a solution for families who are not able to provide the financial proof requested.
The northern region of Veneto had put in place a similar measure requiring immigrant parents to prove their assets abroad in order to qualify for discounts on school books.