Italians debate citizenship rights amid resurgent racism

Thu Jun 20, 2013 1:48pm EDT
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By Catherine Hornby

ROME (Reuters) - Savio Warnakulasuriya, born in Rome this month, will have to wait for 18 years before he can be sure of being able to remain in the country where he came into the world.

Until then his right to stay in Italy is tied to the permits of his Sri Lankan parents to work as domestic helpers. These papers have to be renewed every two years.

Savio is one of many children born in Italy who Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge says should have citizenship rights at birth, a proposal that has shocked many Italians and drawn a torrent of racist abuse against her.

Italy bears the brunt of clandestine seaborne migration to southern Europe, with thousands reaching its long Mediterranean shores every year in crammed rickety boats. Parties such as the opposition Northern League campaign against boosting immigrant rights, pointing to cultural differences and crime rates.

Kyenge, born in Congo and now Italy's first black minister, says it is time for a change in approach to citizenship starting with ensuring that immigrant children are not held back from fully integrating with their peers.

For Savio's father, Fernando, an easing in citizenship rules would be welcome. "The sooner they give our son citizenship, the better. I am a little worried, we want him to carry on living and working here without problems," he said in an interview.

Erika Arribasplata, a 34-year-old secretary who was born in Rome to Argentinian parents, remembers the difficulties she faced as a child to fully integrate at school because she lacked rights to Italian citizenship.

INSECURITY   Continued...

Elena Lin (2nd L), who was born in Italy to Chinese parents, prays in a Buddhist Pagoda in Rome June 9, 2013. Italy's Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge, who was born in Democratic Republic of Congo and came to Italy when she was 18, has fuelled a debate about citizenship laws that many immigrants say prevent them from fully integrating into society and mean that even children born in Italy cannot gain citizenship until they turn 18. Picture taken June 9, 2013. REUTERS/Tony Gentile