|Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. Photo: EPA-EFE/DANIEL KOPATSCH.|
Romanians expressed outrage on Thursday over a remark by Italy’s right-wing interior minister, Matteo Salvini, in which he accused fellow European Union members Romania and Bulgaria of exporting “slaves” to Italy.
Salvini, who heads the anti-immigration League party in coalition with the populist Five Star Movement, made the comment to media on Wednesday after 12 Nigerian migrant workers without papers died in southern Italy when the overcrowded bus in which they were being illegally transported crashed.
Salvini, whose party was formerly called Northern League, was propelled to power by a radical right-wing message and a vow to deport half a million “illegal migrants”.
He told reporters that Italy would respond to the “import of slaves from EU countries – Romania and Bulgaria.”
“I will write to my colleagues in these countries, because they are part of the EU and they have a duty to check people and cars,” he said.
The Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Thursday that the statement was “unacceptable”.
“The situation of citizens who commit crimes needs to be approached without referring to stereotytpes, and in no way based on ethnicity or discrimination,” the statement read.
È tempo che @matteosalvinimi riconosca pubblicamente il fatto che i #rumeni sono cittadini onesti e laboriosi che stanno aiutando alla crescita dell’economia e allo sviluppo della società #italiana. Meritano tutto il #rispetto! La difesa dei loro diritti è fondamentale.🇷🇴🇮🇹
— Dan Stoenescu 🇹🇩 (@DanStoenescu) August 8, 2018
The Romanian community in Italy, and some Romanian members of the European Parliament, also reacted with outrage.
“It’s not the exploited who are to blame, so it’s not the Romanians or the Bulgarians you should scold, but your co-nationals and their companies who prefer to hire Romanians and Bulgarians on the black market and pay lower wages than for Italian workers,” Romanian Socialist MEP Ioan Mircea Pascu wrote on his official Facebook page.
An association of Romanian women in Italy, ADRI, wrote an open letter to Salvini on Wednesday calling on him to be more active in combating the scourge of labour trafficking and modern slavery.
“We remind you that Romanian citizens are being exploited in Italy,” the letter read. “It is your duty to help employers respect Italian law.”
Romania too must do more to raise awareness among its own citizens, wrote ADRI president Silvia Dumitrache.
Hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants work as seasonal agriculture workers in Italy, controlled by intermediaries known as ‘corporals’ who are frequently members of Romanian, Bulgarian or Albanian criminal groups.
The ‘corporals’ are themselves usually migrants who have established themselves among landowners. They transport the workers and enforce the rules and low wages.
According to media reports, thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian women are victims of slavery and forced prostitution while working on farms in southern Italy and Sicily.
Modern Slavery Risk Highlighted in Bulgaria, Romania
Romania Accused of Inaction Over ‘Slavery’ in Italy
Job-Seeking Romanians End as “Slaves’ in West
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