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Italy: immigrant only classes ''an act of the worst xenophobia''

15-10-2008

Rome, (ANSA): A controversial government proposal to create special classes for immigrant children instead of allowing them to enter directly into Italian schools won approval in the House on Tuesday evening.

The measure, proposed by the Northern League and passed by 265 votes to 246, would require foreign children to pass a specially designed entrance test before being admitted to schools.

While those who passed would be able to join 'normal' classes, children who failed would be placed in so-called 'bridge' classes, where they would follow Italian language, law and citizenship courses as well as a basic curriculum until they could pass the test.

The measure would also require schools to ensure a ''proportionate'' distribution of foreign students in normal school classes ''to facilitate full integration and prevent the risk of forming classes of foreign pupils alone''.

''The spirit of the measure voted yesterday is to guarantee equal opportunities to foreign students and facilitate integration,'' said League House whip Roberto Cota.

''We want a society in which people who arrive here have full rights, but respect our law and learn our language and our rules''.

But the motion came under fire from opposition politicians, with Democratic Party senator Vincenzo Vita describing it as ''an act of the worst xenophobia''.

''How is it possible to vote for such a text? It takes us back to the racism and hatred towards diversity that existed three centuries ago. This is a black page (in parliament's history) that must be withdrawn immediately''.

Italy of Values House whip Pierfelice Zazzera said rather than moving towards integration the measure ''creates other walls, divides, excludes and segregates''.

''Today we create separate classes for foreign pupils, tomorrow for the disabled, the day after for homosexuals, and then separate classes for political affiliations,'' he said.

The motion also drew concern from two members of Premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party.

Alessandra Mussolini, who heads the Parliamentary Children's Committee, and fellow MP Souad Sbai said they ''felt the duty to ask for an urgent meeting'' with Education Minister Maria Stella Gelmini.

''While we are aware of the problems of language and cultural diversity when introducing foreign students into schools, we maintain that the exchange of knowledge is fundamental for real integration,'' they said.

Separate bridge classes ''would risk transforming susceptible students into socially unequal citizens,'' they added.

Cota hit back at criticism, saying that ''people who maintain there is any wish to discriminate either haven't read the text or are acting in bad faith''.

The measure will have to be passed by the Senate before coming into effect.

According to the Italian Association of Italian Municipal Councils (ANCI), there are currently 690,000 foreign students from 190 different countries in Italian schools.

Earlier this year the government pledged to ensure that minors in the country's Roma gypsy camps were sent to school.

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