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The population of Italy is 57.8 million, at 2000. The population growth rate is almost imperceptible at 0.09% percent. The slight growth in 2000, some 160,000 people, was due entirely to immigration. The birth rate is less than 1.2 children per woman, the lowest rate in the world. Am average of 2.1 children per woman are needed to keep population stable, so Italy's population would be decreasing if it weren't for immigration. More children are born in the south than in the north - the birth rate in Emilia-Romagna is half that of Campania, for instance.

Heavily populated areas include those around Rome, Milan and Naples, Liguria, the Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Piedmont and parts of Lombardy. The most densely populated spot in Italy - in fact the most populous in the world after Hong Kong - is Portici, a suburb of Naples, directly under Mt. Vesuvius.

There is only a small minority of non-Italian speakers, including those who speak German in the province of Bolzano in Alto Adige and a tiny French-speaking minority in the Valle d'Aosta. Slovene is spoken by some around Trieste and along the border with Slovenia. The south has pockets of Greeks and  Albanians, whose ancestors arrived in the 14th and 15th centuries.

Italy has traditionally been a country of emigrants, with Italians leaving to search for work in the USA, Argentina, Brazil, Australia and Canada. Southern Italians have also traditionally moved to the north of the country to work in the factories of Piedmont and Lombardy.

In recent years however, Italy has become a country of immigration. Long coastlines and a fairly relaxed attitude to the enforcement of immigration laws by the Italian authorities have made Italy an easy point of entry into Europe. Of the estimated 1.9 million immigrants (about 3.5% of the total population), as many as half a million are reckoned to be clandestine. By some reckonings, more than 10% of the Italian population will be made up of immigrants by 2025.

Illegal immigrants, frequently trafficked in by cut-throat rackets, operating out of countries such as Albania, the former Yugoslavia and Turkey, are know in Italy as extracomunitari. Many of them are in transit for other EU countries and the situation worries not only Italians, who have made repeated calls for an EU-wide police effort to curb the tide, but the rest of the EU as well.

Italians, however, are still more concerned with the traditional hostility of northern Italians towards southerners. Many northerners feel the richer north subsidies the poorer south. A minority of northerners have expressed their resentment by voting for secessionist parties, notable Umberto Bossi's Lega Nord, over the past few years

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