Italy's President warns against intolerance

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Italy's President has warned of a "worrisome" increase in intolerance toward immigrants in his country, the day after the government turned back a boat carrying 200 migrants without screening them for asylum onshore.

President Giorgio Napolitano said that international co-operation should be a priority in fighting illegal immigration. The President said increases in migrant smuggling "risked creating a diffuse perception of insecurity and worrisome instances of intolerance" among Italians.

On Thursday, the government defied the UN refugee agency and returned more than 200 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean to Libya, refusing to let them apply for asylum in Italy.

The Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, called the operation a "turning point" in Italy's crackdown on illegal immigration, and said it should be a model for other European countries. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticised the move. Also expressing concern was the Vatican. Sending back the migrants to Libya "violated international rules on refugee rights," its top official for migrant issues, Monsignor Agostino Marchetto, said. He also criticised proposed legislation Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government is pressing for. If the plan becomes law, it would become a crime to be an illegal immigrant.

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