The Italian Almanac

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Italian News - March 16

At least 500,000 illegal immigrants now live in Italy, one of Italy's top charities said on Wednesday, a day after immigrants flooded post offices with applications for legal status. Catholic charity Caritas said its estimate was a cautious one and noted that labour unions put the total at 800,000. This figure was also cited on Wednesday by the Rome-based Eurispes research institute.

The number was high enough to warrant a "revision" of the mechanisms by which foreigners were allowed into Italy for work purposes, Caritas's immigration chief Giancarlo Perego said. Illegal immigration is an explosive issue in Italy, which is experiencing a steady flow of migrants from North Africa and eastern Europe. The legal immigrant population is put at about 2.7 million.

Italy's current immigration legislation was penned by the leaders of two parties in the governing centre-right coalition: the rightwing National Alliance and the regionalist Northern League. As well as seeking to take a hard line on illegal immigration, it also provides for a certain number of non-EU citizens to be allowed to enter Italy for work every year.

The quota set for 2006 was 170,000 immigrants. The places are distributed on a first-come-first-served basis. On Tuesday designated post offices opened their doors at 14.30 and by 15.00 some 300,000 applications had already been registered.

Many immigrants queued for hours and some for days in order to be at the front of the queues.