Italy’s new interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has pledged to conduct a census of the nomadic Roma people and drive out those lacking valid residence permits, escalating the anti-immigrant attitude he rode to power.
Defying critics who slammed the proposal as reminiscent of race-based abuses under Italy’s fascist regime, Salvini on Tuesday dug his heels in.
“I don’t quit and we’re moving forward,” he said in a tweet, according to a translation by the Guardian. “Italians and their security comes first.”
Salvini’s planned census comes amid growing hostility toward migrants in Europe, where populist leaders and far-right politicians have stoked anti-refugee sentiment.
Last week, Italy refused to let a ship carrying more than 600 people rescued from the Mediterranean disembark, provoking an international standoff until Spain agreed to take them. Salvini insisted that Italy would no longer act as “Europe’s refugee camp.”
While Salvini has enjoyed high approval ratings in the three weeks he has been in office, his latest plan targeting the Roma has set him on a collision course with his coalition partner, Luigi Di Maio.
Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement, called the idea of a Roma registry “unconstitutional,” according to the Guardian.
A previous version of the plan floated by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was thrown out by the Italian courts, while eight decades ago, Italy’s fascist leader Benito Mussolini also targeted Roma and Jews with discriminatory laws.
About half of the 120,000 to 180,000 Roma in the country are estimated to be Italian citizens, while the rest are considered stateless and so cannot be expelled. Traditionally an itinerant people, the Roma, or Romanies, have long faced discrimination across Europe.
Salvini, who has threatened to raze Roma camps, called his census plan an “answer to the Roma question.”
“Unfortunately we will have to keep the Italian Roma because we can’t expel them,” he said.
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Write to Laignee Barron at Laignee.Barron@time.com