(ANSA) - Rome, December 4 - Italian officials on Wednesday said they would ask China for help in monitoring immigration to Italy in order to maintain safe and legal work conditions following a deadly fire at a Chinese-owned garment factory over the weekend that exposed a system of exploitation. "It's not easy to work with a community that has its own traditions and culture," said Integration Minister Cécile Kyenge. "We need dialogue, understanding that we have our Constitutional principles. "The government must strengthen its relationships with the countries that the immigrants come from, including China, in order to ensure legal migration". Seven people were killed in the early hours of Sunday as 11 workers slept inside the Teresa Moda factory dormitory outside the center of Prato, near Florence, when the blaze sparked by stoves in a makeshift kitchen caused the roof to cave in. Among those sleeping when the fire erupted was a child, described as just a few years old by police. A business owner and his three managers, all Chinese citizens, are under investigation on suspicion of multiple manslaughter, failing to follow safety procedures, and exploiting undocumented workers, judicial sources said.
With roughly 40,000 textile factories in the area, Prato hosts the largest clothing district in Italy, one whose complicated structure initially slowed down investigators who called the garment district "the Wild West". According to the labor ministry, many of Prato's thousands of textile workers reside and work in Italy illegally. Officials shut down 600 warehouses in the past four years over infractions, and in the first nine months of 2013, 76% of Prato's clothing factories were cited at some point. Critics say it's easy for companies shut down by the government to reopen under a different name without implementing the proper changes.
According to the labor ministry, Prato hosts "many more" undocumented workers than the average Italian city.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano stressed Wednesday the importance of industrial safety measures and fire prevention amid the shock. "Activities to predict and prevent industrial risks to benefit workers and companies have special importance, as they offer an unreplaceable wealth of specialist skills, tested on the field and refined with permanent training, with the goal of combining the requirements of production and development with the protection of human life and health," Napolitano said in a message on national fire-fighter day. Fire-fighters were alerted to the blaze by an off-duty policeman who saw smoke and heard screams as he drove by. "I got out and saw there were some Chinese people coming toward me crying and screaming. "I ran to the warehouse and saw a Chinese man with a fire extinguisher trying to put out the flames. "So I took an extinguisher, too. "He was worn out, also due to the cold, and I kept hearing the screams. "One woman was completely black from the smoke".