The cars pass incessantly and twirl around the fountains of Piazza della Repubblica in Rome. Young couples come out of the Warner Theatre after watching Hollywood flicks and most tourists and Romans ignore the protestors gathering at the corner to shout their demands. Life goes on as usual in this eternal city of joy. Watching all the guide-book trotting tourists and range of fountains, it is easy to forget a different side of Roman life. A side that is never published in any tourist books or welcome to Rome literature. A side of desperate humanitarian needs. A dire cry for rights of poor immigrants in the middle of an apathetic government.

Mr Nur-e-Alam, mostly known as Bachu leader of the Bangladesh Association went on hunger strike at the beginning of October in Piazza della Repubblica for immigrants' rights, along with Albanian leader Vladimir, Moroccan Chebab and Tunisian Hasan. The strike is now over but the demands remain.

There is a huge administrative problem that is bringing misery to many immigrant families in Rome. At present there are more than 60,000 immigrants in Rome waiting to renew their permesso di soggiorno, the legal paper to stay in this country. The officially- mentioned time it takes to renew this document is no more than 20 days, yet some families have been waiting for one and half years. Without this document, a person is considered illegal and faces predicaments beyond belief. It is indisputable fact that there are thousands of illegal immigrants living in Rome. Laws have been proposed to ease their immigration status and works are underway. However, it is quite unacceptable that even the immigrants with valid papers, who work and pay taxes, must go through such desolation because of administrative quandary. It should be mentioned that immigration papers from different country are processed differently in Rome. An American living and working in Rome enjoys the privilege of having smooth paperwork. A Bangladeshi, on the other hand, faces many challenges just to get an appointment. Moreover, an American can visit home and come back at any time. If Bangladeshis or Algerians go home and their paper are not in order, they will not be allowed back into Italy. One guy told me, he has been waiting three months for an appointment and he will probably not make it home before the birth of his child. There have been numerous complaints about how they are treated in the questura. Without renewed papers, these immigrants can not work, rent apartments or go home to visit their families. This number will grow to about 80,000 in a few months. So far the authorities have not come up with a viable plan, nor have they proposed any temporary arrangements.

Bachu is adamant about his demands. He believes something has to be done to get the attention of the authorities. "They hold the laws to control the immigrants, and yet they dont have any imagination about our lives." This guy, who is a lawyer himself, is following the path of Gandhi to get attention of the authorities. Right now, a gigantic poster of Gandhi is displayed in Piazza Spagna. If Gandhi only knew, that one day his enormous saga would promote Telecom Italia.

FawazRob@hotmail.com