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Integration minister criticizes immigrant detention centers

06/05/2013

Cecile Kyenge calls for decriminalizing illegal immigrants

Integration minister criticizes immigrant detention centers

Rome, May 6 - Comments by recently appointed Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge that she wants Italy's immigrant detention centers shut down sparked fierce reaction from the right of the political spectrum. In comments during a RAI3 news talk show on Sunday, Kyenge also said she will work on repealing a law passed during ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's administration making clandestine immigration a crime, and will back giving automatic citizenship to children born on Italian soil of immigrant parents. "The EU directive does not require us to place minors, the ill and the fragile in CIEs, but only people who are deemed dangerous or criminal", Kyenge said of Italy's so-called Centers for Identification and Deportation (CIE). CIEs descend from so-called Temporary Detention Centers first established in 1998 by the center-left government under the so-called Turco-Napolitano anti-immigration law. In 2002, the center-right Berlusconi government passed a similar but much more restrictive law, in 2011 extending detention times to a maximum of 18 months, nine times longer than in the past. Similar detention practices are widespread across Europe, and the EU legal framework supports both restricting illegal migrants and integrating legal ones. Italy distinguishes itself by stressing criminality and not human rights. The fact of being detained simply for being an immigrant, without any lawbreaking, is exclusive to the Italian legal code, and a 2011 report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) complained about the conditions of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers detained in Italy. Members of the center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party on Monday criticized Kyenge's comments. Senate PdL caucus leader Renato Schifani said Premier Enrico Letta should "rein in his ministers", while MP Anna Maria Bernini said the minister's comments were "misplaced". "We need to debate these issues and we may or may not reach an agreement. I will do my best, but we'll see", Enrico Letta commented on a different RAI 3 talk show. "Having a former illegal immigrant as a minister can only happen in Italy, and it's making a laughing stock of us", said the secretary of the anti-immigration Northern League, Matteo Salvini. "If the minister doesn't think being an illegal alien is a crime that's her problem, but she better not be thinking of bringing her 38 brothers here because they'll find there's no room". Italy's first black cabinet minister, Kyenge, 48, was born in Congo and moved to Italy three decades ago to study medicine. An eye surgeon, she lives in Modena with her Italian husband and two children. Premier Enrico Letta tapped her to be minister of integration in his left-right government that won its second vote of confidence last week. Since then she has been the target of racist slurs by politicians of the anti-immigrant Northern League and members of neo-fascist Internet groups.