The government is offering up to 40,000 resident permits to those who entered the country illegally but can prove they have lodging and means of support. The first step to qualify is securing one of the little white- numbered tickets issued by the police stations.
Long queues had been forming overnight in Turin, Bologna, Vicenza and Brescia. But the worst incidents occurred outside a police station on the northern outskirts of Milan.
An estimated 5,0000 immigrants from as far afield as Sri Lanka and Senegal were squashed inside the metal barriers set up by the police. Medics had to climb over people's shoulders to reach those who had fainted in the throng and about 20 needed hospital treatment. Scuffles broke out as police tried to keep the tightly packed crowd in line. The announcement that the daily quota of 500 numbers had been distributed provoked noisy protests.
The new Interior Minister, Rosa Russo Jervolino, described the immigrant crushes as "inhuman and inadmissible" and ordered an immediate decentralisation of the registration procedures.
In Rome, the queues were limited but there was a climate of uncertainty and confusion. "I can show I have a place to live but I work as a domestic and my boss won't declare me," said Rosaria, a former law student from the Philippines.
The amnesty is part of a new controversial immigration law introduced earlier this year after criticism from European Union partners about Italy's sieve-like borders. It provides for tougher measures to prevent illegal entrants and annual quotas for non-EU citizens.Reuse content