Italian news organizations noted on Tuesday that whenever Mr. Conte was about to step out on the international stage, as he did in Berlin on Monday, Mr. Salvini managed to steal the limelight. The interior minister’s comments on the Roma drew the first significant grumblings from his coalition partners, and Mr. Di Maio scrambled to have his voice heard.
“Italians have priority,” said Mr. Di Maio, who is minister for labor and economic development. “It’s fine to deal with problems related to immigration, but let’s start working on the problems of millions of Italians who can no longer eat.”
The Roma, also known as Romanies or Gypsies, are a people of South Asian origin who migrated centuries ago to Europe, where they have often suffered severe discrimination. Some have lived in itinerant communities, largely isolated from the societies around them, while many others have settled and integrated.
Carlo Stasolla, the president of the Associazione 21 Luglio, which works to end the marginalization of Roma groups in Italy, said in an interview on Tuesday that if Mr. Salvini wanted to conduct a census of the Roma, he need only read the annual reports that his association has been publishing for the last three years.
He would learn, Mr. Stasolla said, that “six out of seven Roma pay taxes,” most own homes or pay rent, and that only about 26,000 live in camps, “segregated areas” that were “created by previous right-leaning governments,” or in informal settlements, he said.
He said that more than 50 percent of the country’s Roma population, estimated at between 120,000 and 180,000 people, were Italian citizens. A large percentage of the rest were from Romania or from the former Yugoslavia, and are considered stateless, “so they can’t be expelled,” he said.
Beyond Mr. Salvini’s threats, Mr. Stasolla voiced concern that the government’s stated agenda for the Roma — which includes closing irregular camps and removing children from Roma parents who do not send them to school — was moving toward “xenophobic and populist positions that could violate fundamental human rights.”