Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party, said those Roma found to have Italian nationality would “unfortunately” be allowed to stay in the country while others would be expelled.
The new anti-Roma policy is one of the first acts of Mr Salvini’s interior ministry; his party formed a coalition government at the start of June with the anti-establishment Eurosceptic Five Star Movement.
“I’ve asked the ministry to prepare a dossier on the Roma question in Italy,” the minister told broadcaster TeleLombardia. He added that the dossier would involve a “census of Roma in Italy” which would “see who, how, how many”. He added: “Unfortunately, you need to keep Italian Roma in Italy.”
The country is estimated to be home to between 100,000 and 180,000 Roma.
The minister’s actions drew criticism from human rights groups and opposition politicians.
“The way is short from a census to a concentration camp. Salvini apparently decided to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the racial laws,” Chiara Gribaudo, a deputy from the centre-left Democratic Party said, referencing the Mussolini era.
“The interior minister does not seem to know that a census on the basis of ethnicity is not permitted by law,” said Carlo Stasolla, president of Associazione 21 Luglio, a group that campaigns for Roma rights.
Responding to anger at his comments, the minister tweeted: “Someone is talking about being shocked. Why? I am thinking of those poor children taught to steal and break laws.”
Roma have faced active persecution in Europe for centuries; hundreds of thousands were killed in a genocide by Nazi Germany, amounting to between a quarter and half of the population.
The formation of the new Italian government has seen the country take an anti-foreigner turn across policy areas. Last week, Mr Salvini closed Italy’s ports to a refugee rescue ship carrying passengers, including pregnant women, children and those needing medical attention.
The moves come as Austria’s right-wing chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who is in coalition with the far-right FPOe party, called for an anti-migration “axis” to be formed with Austria, Germany and Italy.
In Germany, chancellor Angela Merkel is facing a dispute with her own interior minister over whether and how to harden the country’s welcoming approach to refugees and migrants.
In the US too, Donald Trump faced criticism for his policy of separating the children of undocumented migrants from their mothers and for the use of cages to hold people.
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