Italy's Northern League in 'White Christmas' immigrant purge

Michael Day
Thursday 19 November 2009 01:00

The local council of the northern Italian town of Coccaglio is dreaming of a White Christmas this year.

But Bing Crosby's schmaltzy song has nothing to do with their plans. Instead, local officials from the xenophobic Northern League party are relying on some seasonal ethnic cleansing to purify the town. They are launching an officially-sanctioned drive to identify and expel as many non-Europeans as possible before Christmas.

Operation "White Christmas", as it has been dubbed, will see officials calling at the homes of all 400 or so of the town's extracomunitari – as foreigners from outside the EU are known in Italy – between now and 25 December in order to scrutinise their papers.

Those whose residence permits are found to have expired six months or more before, and who cannot prove that they have attempted to renew them, will be shown the door. The town's Northern League Mayor, Franco Claretti, ordered the move after receiving new powers that entitled him to check the residency status of all foreigners in the town, which has a total population of around 8,500,

Northern League member Claudio Abiendi, the councillor in charge of security in the town, which is an hour's drive east of Milan, said that so far 50 per cent of those checked did not have permission to be in Italy. Commenting on the timing of the policy, he told La Repubblica newspaper: "For me Christmas isn't the holiday of hospitality, but rather that of the Christian tradition and of our identity."

The local opposition, led by Luigi Lotto, who until June this year was the centre-left mayor, attacked the scheme as propaganda designed to prey on people's fears. "I left the town united, with no problems regarding integration," he said.

Mayor Claretti denied that the purge was prompted by problems with law and order in the town. "There isn't any criminality here," he said. "We just want to start cleaning [the place] up."

Officials claim that mayors in neighbouring Northern League strongholds such as Castelcovati and Castrezzato are adopting similar policies. The Northern League is an influential member of Silvio Berlusconi's coalition government, and enjoyed a surge in support at the last election. Its tub-thumping leader, Umberto Bossi, has long been one of Berlusconi's confidants.

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