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Alfano defends Italy's immigration law as protest runs on

Interior minister points to criminal record of protestors

27 December, 13:40
Alfano defends Italy's immigration law as protest runs on (ANSA) - Rome, December 27 - Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano in an interview published Friday said Italy's tough immigration law cannot be swept aside and showed little sympathy for migrants protesting their plight in a holding centre in Ponte Galeria in Rome. Ten migrants held in the Ponte Galeria Centre for Identification and Expulsion (CIE) sewed their mouths shut with needle and thread at the weekend to protest continued detention and the living conditions there.

By Friday all had unstitched their mouths, but roughly half of the centre's immigrant detainees, or about 40, had joined a hunger strike and refused to eat lunch on Thursday.

The detainees did eat, however, on Wednesday out of respect for Christmas Day, and entrusted centre's Catholic chaplain Emanuele Giannone with a message to the pope.

Around 15 of migrants have also taken to sleeping outside in a further sign of protest.

The protest comes after the authorities this week emptied a controversial holding facility on the island of Lampedusa, which was at the centre of an international furore when a video was broadcast showing naked migrants being sprayed with disinfectants.

Premier Enrico Letta, a member of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), promised Monday to add to the government's January agenda the subject of revising current immigration law.

''The (migration) law contains many chapters and cannot be liquidated with a slogan. We will see in about what changes the PD proposes and evaluate them,'' Alfano told newspaper La Repubblica in an interview referring to laws that, among other things, make it a criminal offence to be an undocumented migrant.

Alfano is also Deputy Premier and leads the New Centre Right (NCD) party that split from Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia (FI) party last month just before the media magnate withdrew his support from Premier Enrico Letta's left-right coalition government. Junior Interior Minister Filippo Bubbico suggested in a Tuesday interview with Avvenire, a Catholic newspaper, that a law should be put in place to limit the amount of time newcomers must spend in detention centres, explaining that the under Italian law, migrants can be held for up to 18 months, which exceeds European regulations.

It is also an affront to the dignity of migrants, he added.

Alfano stressed, however, that security issues had to be addressed.

''You can't mess with the security of Italians. Among those who sewed their mouths closed at Ponte Galeria, half of them are drug pushers and the imam is under investigation for serious crimes like committing robbery and injury,'' Alfano said.

Among the leaders of the protest is a 32-year-old Tunisian man, Mohammed Rmida, who claims to be an imam. According to the office of the prisoners' ombudsman for the Lazio region, Rmida acts as an extremist religious leader and has criminal record for drug trafficking.

The ombudsman's office added that Rmida has been transferred from one jail to another in the Lazio region for disciplinary reasons.