The European Commission ordered Italy to use force if necessary to compel migrants and refugees to have their fingerprints taken, a move which obliges them to apply for asylum in Italy rather than move on to the richer countries of northern Europe.
Under the Dublin Convention, refugees are obliged to be registered and then to apply for asylum in the first EU country that they arrive in.
Tens of thousands of migrants have reached Italy in recent years after boarding boats on the coast of Libya on journeys organised by ruthless smugglers and armed militias.
Italy has long been accused of turning a blind eye to registering many of them, so that they are free to leave the country by train and bus and travel north to countries such as Germany, France and Britain.
Amid concerns over the sheer number of refugee arrivals in the last year, and fears that Islamic extremists could be among them, the European Commission on Tuesday insisted that Italy must take fingerprints, even if force had to be used in cases where migrants refuse to have their prints taken.
The Commission called on the Italians to “allow the use of force for fingerprinting and to include provisions on longer-term retention for those migrants that resist fingerprinting".
It added: “The target of a 100 per cent fingerprinting rate for arriving migrants needs to be achieved without delay.”
There have been cases in the past of refugees burning their fingers so as wipe out their prints, or coating them with nail varnish or super-glue to achieve the same effect.
The Commission also criticised the slow progress made by Rome in setting up six so-called “hotspots”, identification facilities where genuine refugees from countries such as Syria could be distinguished from economic migrants, for instance from sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Illegal immigrants from North Africa arrive on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa Photo: Reuters