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Immigration In Italy: The Roma

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March 18, 2010 City And People, News & Oddities, Politics No Comments

A few days ago, on 11 March, Amnesty International released a report calling on the Italian authorities to halt a controversial housing plan. The plan has resulted in the forced eviction of hundreds of Roma, and paves the way for thousands more evictions over the coming months. The report, titled The Wrong Answer – Italy’s “Nomad Plan” violates the housing rights of Roma in Rome, warns that the programme, which began in July 2009, violates the human rights of thousands of Roma.

What is going on? According to many newspaper reports over the last few years, Italy is firmly gripped by anti-Gypsy feeling. The government has done nothing to change that, instead it continues to exploit anti-Roma feelings for political ends. Although it could be argued that Rome’s mayor was elected mainly on the grounds of his promise to “immediately activate procedures for the expulsion of 20,000 nomads and immigrants who have broken the law in Rome”, he is quoted by The Times Online as saying: “I’ve never described myself as fascist, even when I was young, but in the 1970s and 1980s we on the right believed fascism was substantially positive. Now we realise it was totalitarian and generally negative, it has to be condemned.”

In 2008, the authorities attempted to fingerprint all of the country’s Gypsy population, including minors, who make up more than half of the estimated 150,000 Roma in Italy, 0.16% of the national population.

Amnesty International’s report indicates that systematic and calculated discrimination is employed without much resistance from anywhere. As Peter Popham puts it in a great article from 2008, “for anybody not swept up in the wave of anti-Roma fury, the campaign has a strong whiff of Mussolini and Hitler about it”.

He goes on to say:

Italy’s “security emergency” is a strange and distracting phenomenon which has been brewing up slowly for the past decade as economic growth slowed to a stop. It intensified dramatically with the admission of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU in January of last year, and now bulks so large that it was the biggest factor in Mr Berlusconi’s election victory and continues to dominate the media. It led to the decision last week to allow police numbers in the big cities to be augmented by up to 3,000 troops.

The issue is strange and distracting because it does not seem to exist, either statistically or as a fact of personal experience. Crime is not a big deal in Italian cities. There is no epidemic of burglary, mugging, bag-snatching, rape. Italy remains a country where it is pretty safe to walk the streets. Yet the government is behaving as if this were Colombia. And Colombia with a very special difference: that the supposedly soaring rate of crime is the work of one particular ethnic group, known as “nomadi rom.”

Gypsies or Roma are visible in Italian cities as in the rest of Europe, and their number has increased. In Rome your subway journey may be made slightly less enjoyable by their accordions and violins and the appeals of their begging. Your eyes may be offended by the sight of them fishing in the waste bins, or hauling stuff home for recycling. Rome is so badly policed that small, utterly miserable squatter camps have sprung up in many places. They are a disgrace – unhygienic, unaesthetic – and have no place in a civilised modern country. But as the source of a “security emergency”?

The segregation and discrimination of Roma takes place throughout Europe, but in Italy has reached saddeningly high levels over the last few years, actively promoted by authorities.

Although a newspaper survey found that 68% of people wanted all Italy’s Gypsies expelled, whether or not they held Italian passports, I do not propose that all problems relating to the Roma population in Italy and their integration stem from racism. The Roma have a reputation for begging, and not respecting local customs, which can clash with local daily life. Even petty thefts are nothing new, but after the 2007 murder, politicians and much of the media became nearly hysterical about the Roma, said Paolo Ciani, the Roma coordinator for the Community of Sant’Egidio, calling the reaction unjustified and out of proportion. “Italy is the land of the mafia. We have real problems of security here, but instead they are focused on gypsies”, he said.

I believe that we must look at such issues in the context of the centuries-long persecution of these people, and find ways to deal with local problems that do not involve stigmatising an entire race. At any time and in any context, but particularly in contemporary Europe, it is disgraceful to devise and promote governmental plans that are, at their core, ethnic cleansing policies. All the more if these policies have an aim completely unrelated to the people in focus: To scare the population, and to boost the popularity of the government.

Read also: What’s Up With Immigration In Italy?

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