Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has announced plans to shut down all illegal Roma camps in the country and to hold a special “census”.

“I’m having them prepare a dossier on the Roma question in Italy at the ministry because after [former Minister Roberto] Maroni, nothing has been done and it’s chaos,” Salvini told TeleLombardia.

As reported by the Italian news agency ANSA, the minister said there will be “reconnaissance on the Roma people in Italy to see who, how, how many, re-doing what was called the census”.

“We’ll have a register,” he was quoted as saying, adding that Roma living in Italy without valid residency papers will be deported. “Unfortunately, you have to keep the Italian Roma at home,” he said.

Salvini’s plans have been harshly criticised by human rights advocates. The president of an association that defends the rights of Italy’s Roma and Sinti communities warned the plan is illegal.

“The interior minister does not seem to know that a census on the basis of ethnicity is not permitted by the law,” said Carlo Stasolla, president of the Associazione 21 Luglio. “Besides data and figures about who lives in the formal and informal settlements already exist and the few undocumented Roma are effectively stateless, and therefore cannot be expelled.

“We also recall that Italian Roma have been present in our country for at least half a century and sometimes they are ‘more Italian’ than many of our fellow citizens,” added Stasolla.

According to ANSA, the Democratic Party (PD) caretaker leader Maurizio Martina also slammed Salvini’s plan. He described it as “abhorrent”.

“It is the latest act in an escalation of dangerous, unacceptable messages,” Martina told ANSA. “I think he should stop because it is not possible for a great European country like Italy to go through provocations every day that do not resolve any problems but feed a spiral of propaganda that is very dangerous.”

PD bigwig Paolo Gentiloni, a former prime minister, issued similar criticism. He posted on Twitter: “Yesterday the refugees, today the Roma, tomorrow guns for all”.

Matteo Orfini, the president of the centre-left party, said: “If we really want to have a census, I’d start with racists and fascists”.