Antiziganism in Italy. An appeal to the United Nations High Commissioner and the European Commission for urgent intervention.

The conditions of apartheid and the persecution the of Roma people in Italy has become intolerable. In the meantime the City of Rome is planning a series of “Roma-ghettoes”.

by EveryOne Group

Rome, January, 2010. In spite of official intervention from the European Commission, the European Council, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the major humanitarian organizations, the phenomenon of antiziganism in Italy has degenerated into a serious persecution and a denial of the Roma and Sinti people's fundamental human rights. There are many serious reasons for this:

  • the Italian Government, made up for the most part of ministers who for many years have been known for their intolerant ideologies (some of whom belong to the Northern League Party), have obtained approval from Parliament of many discriminatory and anti-constitutional laws which are contrary to the European Union's Charter of Fundamental Human Rights - such as Law 94/2009 that introduces “the crime of illegal entry”;

  • Over the last few years Italian politics, which is supposedly “democratic”, has distanced itself from anti-racist ideals and solidarity and is now being guided on a national and local level by politicians (bar a few exceptions) inspired by intolerant ideologies based on a false concept of security, and anti-immigrant sentiments.

  • on government orders, the local institutions have begun authentic “ethnic cleansing” operations against the Roma people and “illegal” immigrants, all done with the collaboration of the police force. As well as encouraging local people to act as informers, they are constantly persecuting unwelcome ethnic groups and bulldozing makeshift squatter settlements. These camp clearances have been undertaken with a huge deployment of police officers and vehicles. Bulldozers are being used to destroy their shelters and meagre possessions. These actions are followed by the issuing of formal expulsion decrees or intimidatory behaviour that “persuades” them to leave. These actions are justified as being “area reclamation” operations for reasons of safety and combating urban decay;

  • as a consequence of these actions, the homeless communities find themselves out on the street without alternative lodgings and humanitarian aid, or the chance of finding shelter (sometimes the authorities offer solutions that mean the families are separated: women and children are offered temporary shelter, while fathers, husbands and older brothers are forced to set off with nowhere to go and no offer of any social or medical assistance).

  • the principal organs of information in Italy have become political tools, and over the last few years have put forward theories that contribute to creating sentiments of prejudice, suspicion, racial hatred (particularly towards the Roma people and “illegal immigrants”). They do it by spreading discriminatory lies, selecting and blowing crimes committed by Roma citizens and foreigners out of proportion, while at the same time omitting or playing down news of the numerous episodes of racism or violence towards immigrants;

  • many Roma citizens have died as a result of the racial policies underway; the lack of protection from the freezing winter temperatures and wet weather; sickness and dramatic conditions of health and hygiene. Many have been injured or have lost their lives in acts of violence and raids carried out by neo-Nazi and neo-Fascist groups. The Roma people's average life-span has now fallen to below 40 as a result of the persecution they are being subjected to, but these are tragedies the authorities and media are careful to conceal;

  • except for rare exceptions, neither the national nor local Italian institutions have undertaken any kind of efficient integration programme, or any programmes promoting tolerance, (if only in word) and have even, whenever possible, discouraged private initiatives of this kind;

  • often backed by intolerant movements such as Forza Nuova, Azione Giovani, La Destra and the Lega Nord party, the authorities have promoted or encouraged violent measures against the Roma people and “clandestini”. They use an intimidatory strategy with human rights activists, which becomes even more worrying and threatening when we are talking about representatives from the Roma, Sinti and immigrant communities;

  • after years of racist and xenophobic propaganda founded on anti-integration and anti-immigrant sentiments, the majority of Italian adults and young people are convinced that the Roma people are hardened criminals, rapists, child kidnappers, asocials, enemies of civilization. A similar attitude is developing towards black Italian citizens and foreigners. At the same time the TV channels, newspapers and politicians are playing their own part in the spread of racism and xenophobia.

  • In a climate of fierce hostility and intimidation, EveryOne Group is denouncing the plans for further projects of apartheid and persecution, projects that are already underway in Milan and Northern Italy, and about to be initiated in Rome. This is done through regional and local laws or through the Prefect's Office, and are laws which fly in the face of all the EU directives and International Law. It has got to the point that intolerant and racist movements are now dictating the law inside the institutions.

  • In spite of the protests and recommendations from human rights organizations, and in spite of the serious preoccupation expressed by the European Union and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Rome authorities have decided to bring back ghettoes, modelled on those the Nazis set up in Poland on the threshold of the Holocaust.

Before carrying out this programme (which is reserved for the Roma people who cannot be expelled from the country) the Roman authorities have undertaken a horrifying series of camp clearances without the offer of social assistance to the homeless families (especially those from Romania) who had taken refuge in the major cities for reasons of poverty. Abandoned buildings, groups of makeshift shelters and tents in which hundreds of children and women (some pregnant), the terminally ill and the elderly live, have been cleared and bulldozed. Clearances have taken place both in summer and in winter. This has had terrible humanitarian consequences, and it has all taken place among the general indifference of the public. Most of the homeless Roma have been forced to flee Italy and take refuge in Romania, Spain, France and Greece. It has resulted in a mass expulsion, and apart from mild criticism, the European Union has done nothing to put a stop to these actions. The Roma who were unable to leave the country now live hidden away like mice, the victims of racism, institutional intolerance and hardship.

As for the “historical” Roma, who came to Italy over a decade ago to flee the humanitarian tragedies and persecution underway in the former Yugoslavia, the institutions have planned – the way they did in Nazi Germany – the displacement of these communities into authentic ghettoes. In order to justify this programme, the authorities and media have undertaken in recent years an antiziganist campaign which has depicted the Roma families in camps such as the Casilino 900 camp as a gang of criminals, incapable of integration and committed to dangerous and polluting activities - like the recycling of copper from cables with the consequent production of toxic smoke.

However, these desperate activities carried out for survival, activities that take place wherever the Roma people are forced to live on the margins of society, could easily have been avoided if there had been even a basic professional integration programme for the heads of the families and the creation of businesses and crafts activities inside the community. These activities would have allowed the families to leave the camp and find lodgings in proper housing, just like everyone else. A project of this kind proved successful in Hungary decades ago with efficient government programmes. Over the last four years, the Comune di Roma has invested over 45 million Euros in ethnic cleansing operations and reclamation of the areas the camps were built on: public funding spent without any criterion on the wave of racial hatred. With a third of that sum EveryOne Group or another association with the relevant experience could have provided a permanent solution to these people's need for integration. Today we would have had a perfect integration of the Roma community in the capital, with a return in terms of civility and international image. But instead Rome has chosen to get tough and yield to that loathing that comes from the stomach and clouds the noble mind that distinguishes men of human rights and evolved societies. As a result, in 2010, if civil society is unable to stop this wave of antiziganist madness, the city will imprison about three thousand people from the Roma ethnic group (including more than 1000 children) inside six or seven ghetto-camps located near existing official or squatter settlements. The project will require an investment of over 20 million Euros - more funds that could have solved the tragedy of the segregation of the Roma community in Rome in a civilized fashion. Before being interned in the new settlements, the families will pass through “transit camps” (as the authorities themselves call them) including, more than likely, the famous prison for immigrants at Ponte Galeria in Rome, the Centre of Identification and Expulsion, already the theatre of terrible violence and abuse towards the most vulnerable members of society. Naturally, to prevent epidemics and harsh criticism from the international community, the camps will be fitted out with running water and electricity; medical assistance and the chance to cultivate Roma traditions and customs. These are the characteristics of the new settlements in Rome according to information already supplied by the authorities:

  • camps reserved exclusively for people from the Roma ethnic group, a fenced-in enclosure to be watched over around the clock by police officers and security guards;

  • Roma citizens in possession of resident permits will be allowed access, as well as EU citizens in possession of ID cards and all those who are able to prove they have been present on Italian soil for at least ten years. The others will be left homeless, without any humanitarian aid and forced to leave the country;

  • the whole area will be equipped with surveillance cameras and police will patrol the area outside the camp.

  • control committees” will be appointed, consisting of administrators of condominium blocks and Italian citizens residing in the area around the camps;

  • each internee (including minors) will be issued with a special permit with photograph and personal details, to be shown at the entrance to the camp. This operation has already begun, with the collaboration of “humanitarian” government or pro-government organizations;

  • an obligation to observe (besides the laws of the Italian Republic and local authorities) a special law called a “sociality pact” or “internal disciplinary pact” - a law specially created for the Roma community which is to be decided on by the local authorities and the “control committee” as the Prefect Giuseppe Pecoraro, (Special Commissioner for the Roma People) calls it: “A residents' rule where each administrator can decide on the hours and duties to be observed”;

  • anyone disobeying these rules will be punished. Though these punishments have yet to be defined, it will probably entail expulsion from the camp without any alternative lodgings or assistance;

  • in spite of these conditions that offend the dignity and fundamental human rights of these human beings, the Roma families will be made to pay for electricity, gas and water. Only the neediest families will be granted three months to pay their bills, the others will immediately be expelled from the camp (called an expulsion with “just cause”). It is impossible not to associate this rule with the one that forced the Jews during the Holocaust to pay their own fare to the concentration camps in the cattle-trains.

  • The Roma will only be allowed to live in the ghetto-camp for a period of two years: “because the assistance offered cannot become permanent” explains the Rome prefect of police. If implemented (and unfortunately the project is already underway) this “final solution” will mean the end to any hope of serious integration for the Roma, because the families - children included - will live under constant police surveillance, the parents branded as “asocials”. Their chances of finding dignified employment will be next to nothing, while the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads to pay their bills will force them to resort to any form of compromise to scrape together the money necessary to avoid being kicked out of the camp and left homeless with their women, children and sick relatives. The children will be subject to serious discrimination from their peers at school and will be excluded from integrating through participation in after-school youth activities.

The families will live in conditions of total apartheid, having to obey rules that are different from the democratic rules other citizens are obliged to adhere to, and who answer to a justice that is no longer “equal for everybody”.

The ghetto-camp will turn the social reality of the Roma people upside-down, people who for decades have been the victims of segregation, racism, injustice and violence and who would be entitled to housing and compensation from the Italian state if there were any equality. Instead, institutions that are no longer democratic, no longer civil, have transformed the Roman people into “criminals” in violation of the laws laid down in the Italian Constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

With this document, EveryOne Group and the anti-racist network are asking the European Commission, the European Council and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to issue a formal and urgent protest to the Italian Government against this latest project of persecution against the Roma people in Italy. At the same time EveryOne Group is urging the International Criminal Court of the Hague (which has already taken up and registered a complaint against the Italian institutions for “crimes against humanity” for the measures taken against the Roma camps in the capital) to speed up the process and permit hundreds of persecuted human beings to finally obtain justice and compensation (at least materially) for the great loss of life and hardship they have suffered for many years.