Incident report: Violent attacks against Roma in the Ponticelli District of Naples, Italy (August 2008)

The report provides information on the impact of the recent events in the Ponticelli district of Naples on Roma, immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. It brings together the basic facts on these violent attacks as well as background information regarding the situation of Roma in Italy. It also describes efforts to address the situation by the Italian Authorities and the International Community, in particular the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and Civil society organisations.

Data and information for this report were provided by COSPE, RAXEN National Focal Point for Italy. The Agency’s conclusions are expressed in the relevant chapter. No mention of any authority, organisation, company or individual shall imply any approval as to their standing and capability on the part of FRA.


5/8/2008- Rebecca Covaciu, like most little girls, likes to draw pictures of the things she knows best: Her brother playing the accordion for spare change, a self-portrait as she begs for money to buy food, a shack under a bridge. Rebecca is a Roma, or gypsy, as her ethnic group of Romany speakers is more widely known. She moved to Italy from Romania with her parents and two siblings two years ago. Since then, authorities have driven her family out of a half-dozen makeshift camps. In June, Italian men shouting racist taunts punched her and shoved her to the ground. ``I'm 12 years old and I already know what sadness is,'' she said in fluent Italian at the Tor di Quinto camp on the banks of the Tiber river in Rome. ``Why can't we live our lives, too?'' Her situation underscores the difficulties European Union leaders face in trying to balance the integration of their largest ethnic minority with the perceived threats of crime and illegal immigration. After coming to power in April, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi focused more attention on the issue with plans to conduct a census of Roma camps to ferret out illegal immigrants as part of a crackdown on crime. There is evidence of intolerance toward the EU's estimated 10 million to 12 million Roma in all member nations, said Ivan Ivanov, a Bulgarian-born Roma who heads the Brussels-based European Roma Information Office.

Last year there were violent attacks against Roma communities in Bulgaria by backers of anti-immigration parties trying to drum up support before local elections, Ivanov said. Roma in Romania have long been segregated into settlements on the outskirts of towns, often without the same services available to ethnic Romanian and Hungarian residents, he said. Italian newspapers on July 20 published a photograph showing the bodies of two Roma girls covered with towels after they drowned off the coast of Naples. In the background, beachgoers continued to sunbathe. Romania, which entered the EU last year, has Europe's largest population of gypsies, a term rooted in the false notion that they originally hailed from Egypt. Anyone holding a Romanian passport is free to work without restriction in 11 EU member countries. The 15 other nations, including Italy, have imposed temporary limitations on the types of jobs Romanians may have as their country's economy integrates itself into Europe's.

`Cultural Integration'
``It pays politically to say, `Let's get rid of the Roma,' not only in Italy, but in Europe in general,'' said Nazzareno Guarnieri, who heads Rom Sinti Insieme, a federation of 22 Roma- rights groups. ``There need to be policies that promote cultural integration, that insert children into the educational system and put families in homes.'' The November rape and murder of Giovanna Reggiani, a 47- year-old Italian housewife, sparked new outrage after a Romanian- born man was accused of the crime. He was a gypsy and an undocumented immigrant who lived in an illegal Roma settlement. After promising that his government would have ``zero tolerance'' of crime, Berlusconi signed ordinances May 30 requiring a census of 700 camps, saying they have become havens for criminals and illegal immigrants. After the census is finished in October, the government plans to dismantle all remaining unauthorized settlements. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni created an uproar in June when he said the census would include fingerprinting of all adults and children in the camps. Maroni backpedaled after Unicef, the Vatican, human-rights organizations, the European Parliament and the European Commission said the plan was discriminatory.

`The Worst'
``Criminality doesn't have any kind of connection to race and ethnicity,'' said Viktoria Mohacsi, a Roma member of the European Parliament from Hungary who has visited 25 of the EU's 27 countries to investigate the ethnic group's status. ``The most discriminated people living in Europe are Romany people, and the situation in Italy is the worst I've seen.'' According to Guarnieri, Roma have lived in Italy since the 14th century, and three-quarters of the country's estimated 160,000 gypsies are Italian citizens. Many live in camps like Tor di Quinto, which has been occupied since 1991 and is considered an illegal settlement. Its ramshackle homes are built of plywood and have corrugated metal roofs. Some people have dug their own septic tanks because there is no sewage system. Residents use generators for electricity, and water has been illegally funneled away from city pipes.

Holocaust Survivor
Human-rights organizations, including EveryOne Group, have helped publicize the Roma's plight by bringing visitors to camps like Tor di Quinto. One of them, Piero Terracina, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, met Rebecca at the camp and discussed Italy's treatment of her people. The Italian government's census plan ``scares me,'' Terracina said in an interview. Former Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini ``took a census of the Jews in 1938, and that was the beginning of a process that put me and my family in Auschwitz five years later.'' Maroni has repeatedly denied that the census constitutes ``ethnic screening.'' EveryOne Group helped move Rebecca's family out of the camp and into a home near the southern Italian city of Potenza. Her artwork, for which she won a prize from Unicef this year, now displays more positive themes, including a bucolic drawing of her family in front of the home they left behind in Romania. ``It's not better in Italy than in Romania,'' she said. ``There's no law and justice for Roma in Italy.''
© Bloomberg


2/8/2008- Gypsy leaders attending a ceremony at the former Auschwitz death camp Saturday accused Italy of harassment and discrimination, a news agency reported. "Over the past year in Italy, we have had to deal with a situation unprecedented in the history of postwar Europe," said Roman Kwiatkowski, the president of the Association of Roma in Poland, according to Poland's PAP news agency. "For the first time since the end of World War II, the authorities of a state are actively engaged in policies of repression and discrimination against an ethnic or national minority, in this case the Roma." Kwiatkowski spoke at an event marking the 64th anniversary of the Nazis' gassing of the most of the remaining 2,900 Gypsy inmates at Auschwitz. In recent weeks, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government has come under fire for plans to fingerprint Roma living in Italy. The criticism — from opposition parties, the European Union and international human rights groups — has included accusations of racism and discrimination. The government, which has spoken of a "Roma emergency" in big cities, rejects the accusations. It insists the fingerprinting is part of a census needed to establish who is in the country illegally, to curb street crime and to get Gypsy children to attend school.

Recently, however, the Interior Ministry issued guidelines specifying that Gypsies will only be fingerprinted if they don't have a valid ID. Romani Rose, the head of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, echoed Kwiatkowski's criticism, and called on the EU to intervene. Both leaders addressed about 300 people gathered at the former Nazi camp in southern Poland, including Holocaust survivors and representatives of the governments of Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. Up to half a million European Gypsies are believed to have perished during World War II, along with 6 million Jews, though the exact number is not known. Others were sterilized or subjected to grisly experiments. The Nazis liquidated the Gypsy camp — the so-called Zigeunerfamilienlager — at the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex on Aug. 2, 1944, and gassed most of the remaining inmates, including women, children and elderly people. Others were sent to German factories as forced laborers.
© International Herald Tribune


26/7/2008- The government of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced Saturday a nationwide state of emergency in reaction to a stark increase in illegal immigration to the country's south. The move is to provide local authorities with greater means to deal with the rising tide of wound-be immigrants arriving by boat. According to the daily La Repubblica, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni plans to build new intake centres throughout the country. According to the Interior Ministry, over 10,600 boat people arrived in Italy in the first half of 2008, nearly twice as many as the 5,378 that came in the same period in 2007. The Italian government called a state of emergency with a wave of refugees in 2002. That state of emergency was renewed annually - even under the centre-left government of Romano Prodi. Because intake centres in February 2008 seemed sufficient, the Prodi government limited the state of emergency to the three southern regions of Calabria, Sicily and Puglia. The Berlusconi government at the behest of the Interior Ministry has now widened the powers to the entire country. Warning of the introduction of a "police state," the country's opposition attacked the measures sharply, calling them abhorrent. "Italy does not need inhuman and extraordinary measures," said parliamentarian Rocco Buttiglione, according to a report by the Turin-based daily La Stampa on Saturday. In response, Maroni criticized what he claimed was the opposition intention to make the state of emergency seem like an entirely new development, and called the opposition position "the worst Italian politics." The interior minister is to face parliament on Tuesday. Berlusconi, who was elected prime minister in April, had declared the fight against illegal immigration a priority. A first step was the passage this week of a package of new security laws brought forward by the conservative government. The number of illegal immigrants in Italy is estimated at around 650,000. Tens of thousands of refugees attempt the dangerous journey in less-than-seaworthy boats from North Africa into southern Europe each year. Overnight another 73 would-be immigrants arrived in two boats at the Italian island of Lampedusa.


The decision by the government of Silvio Berlusconi to fingerprint Roma in Italy was based on "good will" but "mistakes were made during the implementation", says Lívia Járóka, a Hungarian MEP from the centre-right EPP-ED group, in an interview with EurActiv Hungary. [Note: Following misunderstandings, has decided to modify the title of this interview.]

29/7/2008- "I see the good aim on the governments side," said Járóka, who is of Roma ethnicity herself.  She considers that calls by the European Parliament to stop fingerprinting Roma in Italy have lost relevance since the measure has now been extended to every person living in the country. Lívia Járóka is Director of a working group on Roma at the centre-right EPP-ED group in the European Parliament and is vice-president of the Anti-Racism and Diversity Parliamentary Intergroup.

Earlier this month, EU lawmakers adopted a damning resolution (by 336 votes for, 220 against and 77 abstentions) condemning the fingerprinting measures as constituting an "act of discrimination based on race and ethnic origin". The Council of Europe had earlier also issued an unusually strong statement suggesting that the plan amounted to fascism.

But Járóka argues that the fingerprinting is "needed" as part of a wider effort to issue identification papers "to those children and immigrants who have absolutely no documents".

Since the public outrage sparked by the measures, the Italian government has sought to defuse the row by launching a plan under which fingerprints would feature on the identity cards of all Italian citizens and residents from 2010. The Italian Parliament passed the proposal in a vote on 17 July. Resentment towards Roma has grown in Italy following the establishment of many illegal camps in recent years. Some camps outside Naples were even torched by locals and Silvio Berlusconi built strongly on this resentment in his election campaign.

According to Járóka, the most efficient solution to fight Roma segregation would be to give them more jobs. "Jobs for real salary," she stresses, saying "this can make Roma tax-paying citizens". She condemned a proposal by Hungarian local authorities that would link social benefits delivered to the Roma population to their participation to public works. Járóka also criticised European institutions for failing to address the problems of the Roma people effectively. She points out that the Commission already has prepared a policy paper as part of its new social agenda unveiled early July but regretted that "it does not bring too many good ideas".

While Lívia Járóka says anti-Roma feelings are becoming stronger in Europe, she expressed her hope that the media could do more to change the negative stereotypes about them. Few media people really understand the problems of Roma and the Roma culture, she lamented.
© EurActiv


Entrenched prejudice is now spilling over into open hate with violent attacks and draconian government clampdowns
By Giulia Lagana

24/7/2008- Images of a sun-drenched Italian beach began flooding media outlets across the world on July 19. Unlike most photographs of the idyllic Mediterranean shores that usually adorn the travel sections of newspapers and glossy magazines, however, the pictures – showing two young girls' bodies laid out on the sand next to apparently oblivious sunbathers – shocked those who saw them. The bodies belonged to two Roma sisters, Violetta and Cristina, who had been selling trinkets on the beach in Torregaveta, near Naples, and who had given in to the temptation to take a refreshing dip despite not knowing how to swim. Two of their companions were saved by local lifeguards and coastguard officials, but Violetta and Cristina did not make it back alive. Their bodies were then laid out on the sand for hours while picnicking locals carried on with their day out by the sea. Paramedics eventually carried the coffins away, skirting tanned holidaymakers sprawled on their deckchairs. Despite the foreign media highlighting the "outrage" sweeping the country, reactions to the incident have been few and far between. Opera Nomadi, a Roma rights organisation, and UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, expressed their shock at onlookers' indifference. The Archbishop of Naples, Cardinal Sepe, also released a strongly worded statement, stressing the fact that he hoped "never to see such images of our city again – images which are worse than those which showed Naples covered in rubbish". Local and national politicians chose to ignore what had happened and coverage of the incident quickly faded from major news outlets.

Anti-Roma sentiments are deeply entrenched in Italy, with parents still telling their children that they will be stolen by the Gypsies should they misbehave. International organisations such as the Council of Europe and the OSCE, as well as leading human rights groups, have been sounding the alarm about discrimination against the Roma in Italy for years, highlighting successive governments' systematic policy of confining Roma to run-down camps which would not look out of place in an African shanty-town. Yet the last few months have seen an unprecedented explosion of anti-Roma feelings as settlements have been torched and their inhabitants forced to flee; families have been harassed and attacked. Inflammatory statements on the part of government and opposition representatives, coupled with a frenzied media campaign linking the Roma to alleged rising crime rates, have led most Italians to view a minority whose roots in the Belpaese can be traced back to the 15th century with deep distrust. A Eurobarometer poll published on July 1 found that 47% of Italians would not want to live near Roma citizens against an EU average of 25%, 14% feel they can trust the Roma (against an EU average of 36%) and only 5% have Roma friends (the EU average is 14%).

The government rolled out plans to identify Roma living in the country at the beginning of June. All Roma, including children, were supposed to be fingerprinted and to fill in forms specifying their "ethnicity" and religion. The census has sparked outrage on the national and international scene, with Terry Davis, the secretary general of the Council of Europe, stating that the Italian government plan "invites historical analogies which are so obvious that they do not even have to be spelled out". Gad Lerner, an influential editorialist, published an article in La Repubblica on July 5 in which he compared the ongoing census to the one carried out by Mussolini in 1938 prior to the rounding up and deportation of thousands of Jews. Lerner noted that most Roma have already been identified by local authorities and the police, with the census being used to demonstrate – as in 1938 – that the government is cracking down on inherently "deviant" groups. Following the uproar, government plans have been modified. The questionnaires currently being used in Roma camps make no reference to ethnicity or religion and will allegedly only serve to collect data on Roma communities' health and social inclusion. Despite the apparent backtracking, the interior minister remains adamant that the census will go ahead and that it will be over by October. In Naples and Milan, unlike Rome, where the prefect has refused to fingerprint children and the census appears to be "voluntary" (Roma who do not wish to be identified are apparently being allowed to do so) both adults and children have been fingerprinted.

Violetta and Cristina, whose grandfather left Macedonia 40 years ago to start a new life in Italy, were born in Naples and lived in one of the hundreds of squalid settlements dotting the country. The girls, who were 11 and 12 when they died, were in essence Italian, despite the fact that Italian-born children whose parents are foreigners are not automatically granted Italian citizenship. Their deaths have not, apparently, dampened anti-Roma feelings – three days after they died, a Roma settlement on the outskirts of Rome was torched. Harsh new legislation cracking down on migrants has just been approved by parliament, part of a government drive to make Italy "safer". For Mioara Miclescu, a resident of the camp which was attacked on Tuesday night, and her fellow Roma, however, Italy is not a place where they feel safe. "We are afraid", she told journalists.
© Comment is free - Guardian


22/7/2008- It's another balmy weekend on the beach in Naples. By the rocks, a couple soak up the southern Italian sun. A few metres away, their feet poking from under beach towels that cover their faces and bodies, lie two drowned Roma children. The girls, Cristina, aged 16, and Violetta, 14, were buried last night as the fallout from the circumstances of their death reverberated throughout Italy. It is an image that has crystallised the mounting disquiet in the country over the treatment of Roma, coming after camps have been burnt and the government has embarked on a bid to fingerprint every member of the minority. Two young Roma sisters had drowned at Torregaveta beach after taking a dip in treacherous waters. Their corpses were recovered from the sea – then left on the beach for hours while holidaymakers continued to sunbathe and picnic around them. They had come to the beach on the outskirts of Naples on Saturday with another sister, Diana, nine, and a 16-year-old cousin, Manuela, to make a little money selling coloured magnets and other trinkets to sunbathers. But it was fiercely hot all day and, about 2pm, the girls surrendered to the temptation of a cooling dip – even though they apparently did not know how to swim.

"The sea was rough on Saturday," said Enzo Esposito, the national treasurer of Opera Nomadi, Italy's biggest Roma organisation. "Christina and Violetta went farther out than the other two, and a big wave came out of nowhere and dashed them on to the rocks. For a few moments, they disappeared; Manuela, who was in shallow water with Diana, came to the shore, helped out by people on the beach, and ran to try and get help." Other reports said that lifeguards from nearby private beaches also tried to help, without success. "When Manuela and Diana came back," Esposito went on, "the bodies of her cousins had reappeared, and they were already dead." It was the sort of tragedy that could happen on any beach. But what happened next has stunned Italy. The bodies of the two girls were laid on the sand; their sister and cousin were taken away by the police to identify and contact the parents. Some pious soul donated a couple of towels to preserve the most basic decencies. Then beach life resumed. The indifference was taken as shocking proof that many Italians no longer have human feelings for the Roma, even though the communities have lived side by side for generations.

"This was the other terrible thing," says Mr Esposito, "besides the fact of the girls drowning: the normality. The way people continued to sunbathe, for three hours, just metres away from the bodies. They could have gone to a different beach. It's not possible that you can watch two young people die then carry on as if nothing happened. It showed a terrible lack of sensitivity and respect." The attitudes of ordinary Italians towards the Roma, never warm, have been chilling for years, aggravated by sensational news coverage of crimes allegedly committed by Gypsies, and a widespread confusion of Roma with ordinary, non-Roma Romanians, who continue to arrive. The Berlusconi government has launched a high-profile campaign against the community, spearheaded by the programme announced by the Interior Minister, Roberto Marroni, to fingerprint the entire Roma population. The move has been condemned inside Italy and beyond as a return to the racial registers introduced by the Fascist regime in the 1930s. The fingerprinting of Roma in Naples began on 19 June. The most senior Catholic in Naples, Cardinal Crescenzo Sepe, was quick to point out the coarsening of human sentiment which the behaviour on the beach represented. But the Mayor of Monte di Procida, the town on the outskirts of the city where Torregaveta beach is located, defended his citizens' behaviour. When the Roma girls got into difficulties, he said: "There was a race among the bathers and the coastguard and the carabinieri to try and help them." He rejected the claim that the indifference of the bathers was due to the fact that the girls were Roma.

The two cousins were given a Christian Orthodox funeral service in the Roma camp in Naples, attended by 300 Roma and city and regional representatives. In a speech yesterday, Mr Maroni proposed, "for humanitarian reasons", granting Italian citizenship to all Roma children in Italy abandoned by their parents.

The Italians and the Roma
Roma have been living in Italy for seven centuries and the country is home to about 150,000, who live mainly in squalid conditions in one of around 700 encampments on the outskirts of major cities such as Rome, Milan and Naples. They amount to less than 0.3 per cent of the population, one of the lowest proportions in Europe. But their poverty and resistance to integration have made them far more conspicuous than other communities. And the influx of thousands more migrants from Romania in the past year has confirmed the view of many Italians that the Gypsies and their eyesore camps are the source of all their problems. The ethnic group is often blamed for petty theft and burglaries. According to a recent newspaper survey, more than two thirds of Italians want Gypsies expelled, whether they hold Italian passports or not.
© The Independent


23/7/2006- Italian newspapers, an archbishop and civil liberties campaigners expressed shock and revulsion on Monday after photographs were published of sunbathers apparently enjoying a day at the beach just meters from where the bodies of two drowned Roma girls were laid out on the sand. Italian news agency ANSA reported that the incident had occurred on Saturday at the beach of Torregaveta, west of Naples, southern Italy, where the two girls had earlier been swimming in the sea with two other Roma girls. Reports said they had gone to the beach to beg and sell trinkets. Local news reports said the four girls found themselves in trouble amid fierce waves and strong currents. Emergency services responded 10 minutes after a distress call was made from the beach and two lifeguards attended the girls upon hearing their screams. Two of them were pulled to safety but rescuers failed to reach the other two in time to save them. Video Watch why the photos have generated anger » The Web site of the Archbishop of Naples said the girls were cousins named Violetta and Cristina, aged 12 and 13. Their bodies were eventually laid out on the sand under beach towels to await collection by police. Photographs show sunbathers in bikinis and swimming trunks sitting close to where the girls' feet can be seen poking out from under the towels concealing their bodies. A photographer who took photos at the scene told CNN the mood among sunbathers had been one of indifference. Other photos show police officers lifting the bodies into coffins and carrying them away past bathers reclined on sun loungers. "While the lifeless bodies of the girls were still on the sand, there were those who carried on sunbathing or having lunch just a few meters away," Italian newspaper La Republica reported.

Corriere della Sera said that a crowd of curious onlookers that had formed around the bodies quickly dispersed. "Few left the beach or abandoned their sunbathing. When the police from the mortuary arrived an hour later with coffins, the two girls were carried away between bathers stretched out in the sun." The incident also attracted condemnation from the Archbishop of Naples, Cardinal Crecenzio Seppe. "Indifference is not an emotion for human beings," Seppe wrote in his parish blog. "To turn the other way or to mind your own business can sometimes be more devastating than the events that occur." Recent weeks have seen heightened tensions between Italian authorities and the country's Roma minority amid a crackdown by Silvo Berlusconi's government targeting illegal immigrants and talk by government officials of a "Roma emergency" that has seen the 150,000-strong migrant group blamed for rising street crime. That has provided justification for police raids on Roma camps and controversial government plans to fingerprint all Roma -- an act condemned by the European Parliament and United Nations officials as a clear act of racial discrimination. Popular resentment against Romanies has also seen Roma camps near Naples attacked and set on fire with petrol bombs by local residents. In a statement published on its Web site, the Italian civil liberties group EveryOne said Saturday's drowning had occurred in an atmosphere of "racism and horror" and cast doubt on the reported version of events, suggesting that it appeared unusual for the four girls to wade into the sea, apparently casting modesty aside and despite being unable to swim. "The most shocking aspect of all this is the attitude of the people on the beach," the statement said. "No one appears the slightest upset at the sight and presence of the children's dead bodies on the beach: they carry on swimming, sunbathing, sipping soft drinks and chatting."


A decision by Italian authorities to fingerprint nomads — mostly Roma — is supported by many Romanians, in spite of statements from Romanian officials condemning the measure as discriminatory.

22/7/2008- According to Italian human rights organisation Opera Nomadi, approximately 160,000 Roma currently live in Italy. Most of them inhabit improvised camps on the outskirts of towns. Roughly 60,000 come from Romania, which has Europe’s largest Roma community, numbering close to 2.5 million in a population of 22 million. The Roma are believed to have migrated to Europe from India since the 14th century. Following several highly publicised reports of Roma, often from Romania, committing crimes in Italy, the Italian centre-right government declared a one-year state of emergency May 21 in relation to the settlements of nomad communities in the regions of Campania (capital Naples), Lombardia (Milan) and Lazio (Rome). Ordinances accompanying the state of emergency allow the prefects of these regions to conduct identity screenings, involving fingerprinting, of all persons, even those not considered dangerous or suspected of crimes. Authorities in Naples and Milan have since declared their intention to fingerprint nomads, including minors, living in camps around the cities. Italian authorities have further announced that all Italian citizens are to be fingerprinted for their national identification cards before 2010. But this has not convinced human rights groups that the fingerprinting of nomads now is not discriminatory. The Council of Europe, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Amnesty International, among others, have condemned the decision of Italian prefects.

Similarly, the European Parliament (EP) adopted last week a resolution "urging the Italian authorities to refrain from proceeding to the collection of fingerprints of Roma, including minors, as this would clearly constitute an act of discrimination based on race and ethnic origin, forbidden by the Art. 14th of the European convention on human rights, and furthermore an act of discrimination between EU citizens of Roma origin or nomads and those who are not and are not required to undergo such procedures." "In the case of Italy, it is not so much the fingerprinting itself which is worrisome, but the fact that fingerprinting is being done on an ethnic basis," says Magor Csibi (Member of the European Parliament from the ALDE-Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) from Romania, one of the authors of the EP resolution text. "If we talk so much about social inclusion in all European policies, we cannot accept a campaign which stigmatises a whole segment of population. We cannot make generalisations on the basis of race or ethnicity. Additionally, fingerprinting children is even more worrisome and breaks all norms in European legislation. "If Roma in Italy do not have identification documents, this is a proof of the inefficiency of Italian authorities," Csibi told IPS. "Nomads and nomad camps have existed in Italy for years, they did not just appear over the last couple of months. Those people must be documented, but they cannot be treated as a group of criminals."

Many Roma in Romania lack documentation and live in dire conditions, making Romanian authorities too responsible for the current situation. But the developments in Italy brought little discussion in Romania over the responsibility of this country for the discrimination of Roma. Romanian authorities were quick to distance themselves from the Italian government, by condemning the fingerprinting. "For the Romanian government, observing human rights is a priority," said Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu. "We cannot accept that Romanian citizens are subject to discriminatory practices that do not respect human dignity." Echoing the statements of Romanian politicians, several Romanian NGOs — the Agency for Press Monitoring, Roma rights group Romani Criss and the Agency for Community Development — together with private all news TV channel Realitatea TV, initiated a campaign expressing solidarity with the Roma in Italy by asking people to voluntarily submit their fingerprints on lists to be presented to the Italian authorities in protest. Thousands of fingerprints were collected around the country. Public figures from the media and cultural scenes have expressed their support for the cause, and politicians such as Interior Minister Cristian David have submitted their fingerprints.

But the campaign sparked much controversy. Thousands of messages of protest against the campaign were sent to Realitatea TV, the main promoter of the initiative. Polls conducted by rival news channel Antena 3 and a couple of national dailies, each on samples of 500-1,000 interviewees, suggested that around 90 percent of respondents agreed with the fingerprinting and considered the campaign of the NGOs "hypocritical". IPS reviewed close to 1,000 forum comments sent to Realitatea TV in response to the campaign. Just over 100 can be considered sympathetic to the campaign or neutral, while the majority denounced the initiative and the statements of Romanian leaders criticising the fingerprinting. The majority wrote comments saying the Roma must be monitored through fingerprinting because they are "inclined to commit more crimes" and because "they damage Romania’s reputation in Europe." Many others said they cannot understand why the fingerprinting causes so much outrage, since it is common to be fingerprinted in such situations as entering the United States or renewing one’s residence permit in Italy.

"As honest Romanians working in Italy, we are tired of being mistaken for the gypsies, who are known for their crimes," read one comment, expressing the gist of similar entries. Over a million Romanians are currently living and working in Italy. An online petition, signed so far by over 1,200 people, asks Romanian authorities to outlaw use of the name ’Roma’, and replace it with ’tigan’ (gypsy) or an older name used for the Roma, ’Dom’, in order to avoid confusion between Roma and Romanians. Reactions to the developments in Italy fall in line with sociological studies on the attitude of non-Roma Romanians towards the Roma. A study conducted at the end of 2006 by the Max Weber Foundation for Social Research and financed by the Romanian government shows that, when asked to choose among over 20 characteristics the ones which best match the Roma, 96 percent of the total of 1,170 interviewees said Roma are "thieves", 47.3 percent called them "dirty" and 37.1 percent "lazy". Characteristics with positive connotations, such as "civilised" or "intelligent", were attributed to Roma by less than 5 percent of those interviewed.

Having lived for centuries in the territory of Romania and elsewhere in Europe, the Roma seem to be far from being considered European citizens. In spite of rhetoric, "Europe lacks a coherent strategy on Roma," says MEP Magor Csibi. "After pressures from the European Parliament, the European Commission is expected to present this fall the concrete elements of such a strategy. I cannot agree that Roma in Europe — about 10 million people — have to pay the price for our centuries-old incapacity to integrate them."
© Human Rights Tribune


21/7/2008- A delegation of OSCE experts arrived in Italy today to assess the human rights situation of the Roma and Sinti population in the country. The visit, which takes place in co-operation with the Italian authorities, follows violent incidents targeting Roma and Sinti living in informal settlements in Italy and comes amid a controversial campaign to register Roma and Sinti individuals, including minors, by taking their fingerprints. "The purpose of the visit is to work with the Italian authorities to identify issues of concern and develop recommendations on how to address them in line with Italy's OSCE and other international commitments," said Andrzej Mirga, the head of the focal point on Roma and Sinti issues within the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), who leads the delegation. Anastasia Crickley, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination, and experts from the ODIHR and the office of the OSCE's High Commissioner on National Minorities are also part of the delegation. The team is joined by representatives from the office of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, the Italian anti-discrimination body UNAR and Italian non-governmental organizations. During the one-week visit to Milan, Naples and Rome, the experts will assess the human rights situation of migrants, in particular Roma from Romania, as well as Italian citizens of Roma and Sinti origin. They will also look at national and local policies and measures targeting Roma and Sinti.

Following the visit, a report, including recommendations on the protection of the rights of Roma and Sinti in Italy and their integration into mainstream society, will be prepared by the organizations involved. The report is expected to be presented by high-level OSCE officials to the Italian authorities in September. Last week in Vienna, an OSCE meeting on improving the integration of Roma and Sinti ended with strong calls on governments to strengthen efforts to end widespread discrimination and to implement the 2003 OSCE Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area. In a joint statement presented at the meeting, Roma civil society representatives said they were "deeply concerned" about the rise of incidents of racist and xenophobic violence, hate speech and intolerance targeting Roma and Sinti communities in the OSCE region. They called on heads of states, senior government officials, politicians and community leaders to unequivocally condemn such acts.


11/7/2008- Italy's centre-right government yesterday rejected accusations of racism from European parliamentarians over its finger-printing of Gypsies and said it would go ahead with a census in -illegal camps. Elected on a law and order platform in April with promises to crack down on illegal immigrants and crimes -committed by Gypsies, the Italian government has sought to turn the issue into a humanitarian endeavour to prevent the exploitation of children. At the same time, without committing to details, -Roberto Maroni, the right-wing interior minister from the anti-immigration Northern League, reiterated that "nomads" - as Italians call the Gypsies, although most do little roaming - who were not Italian citizens and did not meet conditions to stay would be deported to their "countries of origin". Church groups and non-governmental organisations have attacked the census-taking as racial profiling. They also point out that thousands of Gypsies originate from a country that no longer exists -Yugoslavia - and have had one or two generations of children born in Italy but have still been denied Italian citizenship. The European parliament yesterday passed a resolution calling on the Italian government to stop the -finger-printing and end "discriminatory policies". Parliamentarians said the Roma, as they referred to the Gypsies, were among the main targets of racism and discrimination in Italy.

Mr Maroni dismissed the accusations. He said proper identification was needed to help rescue children stolen from other countries and prevent their abuse by gangs of paedophiles and human organ traffickers. "We are dealing with shadow children here," he said. Mr Maroni said the census would only be carried out in illegal "nomad" camps in Rome, Milan and Naples. Only those without valid documents would be finger-printed. After the census, he said, illegal camps would be destroyed, their occupants transferred to legitimate -settlements with proper -utilities and children sent to school. He said the Red Cross and Opera Nomadi, a Roma and Sini association, was involved in the census-taking, and that Unicef, the United Nations children's agency, was also collaborating with the government. The European Commission has asked for further clarification of Italy's intentions. Franco Frattini, foreign minister and former European justice commissioner, said identification documents and DNA records were essential to combat growing trade in child organs across Europe. He spoke of traffickers smuggling children for organs across the Black Sea and the Balkans into Europe where tens of thousands of children were recorded as missing. In spite of the uproar over finger-printing, opinion polls show the government has broad support for its -measures.
© The Financial Times


15/7/2008- Three U.N. experts accused Italy on Tuesday of discriminating against Gypsies by going ahead with a plan to fingerprint them, saying that Italian politicians are creating a climate of ethnic bias. The criticism by the independent U.N. experts in Geneva came as the EU chief, Jose Manuel Barroso, addressed the issue during talks in Rome with Premier Silvio Berlusconi. Barroso said he was confident that Italy would comply with EU principles and treaties. Berlusconi defended the treatment of Gypsies, who also are known as Roma. Italy has drawn widespread criticism this month as it began fingerprinting Gypsies, including children, as part of a crackdown on street crime. The European Parliament called the measure a clear act of racial discrimination and urged Italian authorities to stop it, while many human rights groups criticized it as racist. The three U.N. experts said that "by exclusively targeting the Roma minority, this proposal can be unambiguously classified as discriminatory." They said they are "extremely concerned." They also said they were "dismayed at the aggressive and discriminatory rhetoric used by political leaders, including Cabinet members, when referring to the Roma community." "By explicitly associating the Roma to criminality, and by calling for the immediate dismantling of Roma camps in the country, these officials have created an overall environment of hostility, antagonism and stigmatization of the Roma community," said the statement. "This climate of anti-Roma sentiment has served to mobilize extremist groups."

Italy must uphold its obligations under international law, said the three: special rapporteur on racism, Doudou Diene; the independent expert on minority issues, Gay McDougall; and the special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Jorge Bustamante. Recently, Italian officials have spoken of a "Roma emergency" in big cities, linking crime to the minority. Some cities have appointed special commissioners to deal with the issue. The Gypsies often live off temporary work and mostly stay in encampments in squalid conditions with no access to health services, education, basic sanitary facilities or jobs. More than 700 encampments have been built in Italy, mainly around Rome, Milan and Naples, housing tens of thousands of Gypsies. In Naples, camps had to be evacuated after attackers set huts on fire and angry residents in neighboring areas protested the alleged attempt by a Gypsy woman to kidnap a baby. Authorities in Rome raided a camp to check for proper papers. Berlusconi, speaking alongside Barroso in Rome, defended the fingerprinting. He insisted the measure is aimed at identifying illegal immigrants for expulsion as well as making sure that Gypsy children are sent to school and not begging in the streets. The premier said the government only wants to "make these European citizens better integrated and to give them the same right to education that our children have." Barroso did not evaluate the program. But he said, "I'm sure a solution will be found, compatible with the great Christian and humanistic traditions of Italy, and also ... of Europe in general." He praised the cooperation that he said Italian authorities are offering to EU officials on the subject.


Italy's campaign against the Roma has ominous echoes of its fascist past, and the silence of our leaders is deafening 
By Seumas Milne

10/7/2008- At the heart of Europe, police have begun fingerprinting children on the basis of their race - with barely a murmur of protest from European governments. Last week, Silvio Berlusconi's new rightwing Italian administration announced plans to carry out a national registration of all the country's estimated 150,000 Gypsies - Roma and Sinti people - whether Italian-born or migrants. Interior minister and leading light of the xenophobic Northern League, Roberto Maroni, insisted that taking fingerprints of all Roma, including children, was needed to "prevent begging" and, if necessary, remove the children from their parents. The ethnic fingerprinting drive is part of a broader crackdown on Italy's three-and-a-half million migrants, most of them legal, carried out in an atmosphere of increasingly hysterical rhetoric about crime and security. But the reviled Roma, some of whose families have been in Italy since the middle ages, are taking the brunt of it. The aim is to close 700 Roma squatter camps and force their inhabitants out of the cities or the country. In the same week as Maroni was defending his racial registration plans in parliament, Italy's highest appeal court ruled that it was acceptable to discriminate against Roma on the grounds that "all Gypsies were thieves", rather than because of their "Gypsy nature". Official roundups and forced closures of Roma camps have been punctuated with vigilante attacks. In May, rumours of an abduction of a baby girl by a Gypsy woman in Naples triggered an orgy of racist violence against Roma camps by thugs wielding iron bars, who torched caravans and drove Gypsies from their slum homes in dozens of assaults, orchestrated by the local mafia, the Camorra. The response of Berlusconi's government to the firebombing and ethnic cleansing? "That is what happens when Gypsies steal babies," shrugged Maroni; while fellow minister and Northern League leader Umberto Bossi declared: "The people do what the political class isn't able to do."

This, it should be recalled, is taking place in a state that under Benito Mussolini's fascist dictatorship played a willing part in the Holocaust, during which more than a million Gypsies are estimated to have died as "sub-humans" alongside the Nazi genocide perpetrated against the Jews. The first expulsions of Gypsies by Mussolini took place as early as 1926. Now the dictator's political heirs, the "post-fascist" National Alliance, are coalition partners in Berlusconi's government. In case anyone missed that, when the Alliance's Gianni Alemanno was elected mayor of Rome in April, his supporters gave the fascist salute chanting "Duce" (equivalent to the German "Führer") and Berlusconi enthused: "We are the new Falange" (the Spanish fascist party of General Franco). So you might have expected that Berlusconi would be taken to task for his vile treatment of the surviving Roma of Europe at the G8 summit in Japan this week by those fearless crusaders for human rights, George Bush and Gordon Brown. Far from it. Instead, Bush's spokesman issued a grovelling apology to the Italian prime minister on Tuesday for a US briefing describing his "good friend" Berlusconi as "one of the most controversial leaders of Italy ... hated by many". It has been left to others to speak out against this eruption of naked, officially sanctioned racism. Catholic human rights organisations have damned the fingerprinting of Gypsies as "evoking painful memories". The chief rabbi of Rome insisted it "must be stopped now". Roma groups have demonstrated, wearing the black triangles Gypsies were forced to wear in the Nazi concentration camps, and anti-racist campaigners in Rome this week began to bombard the interior ministry with their own fingerprints in protest against the treatment of the Gypsies. But, given that the European establishment has long turned a blind eye to anti-Roma discrimination and violence in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania, along with the celebration of SS units that took part in the Holocaust in the Baltic states, perhaps it's no surprise that they ignore the outrages now taking place in Italy.

The rest of us cannot. There are particular reasons why Italy has been especially vulnerable in recent years to xenophobic and racist campaigns - even while crime is actually lower than it was in the 1990s (and below the level of Britain). The scale of recent immigration from the Balkans and Africa, an insecure and stagnant job market and the collapse of what was previously a powerful progressive and anti-fascist culture have all combined to create a particularly fearful and individualistic atmosphere, the leftwing Italian veteran Luciana Castellina argues. But the same phenomena can be seen to varying degrees all over Europe, where racist and Islamophobic parties are on the march: take the far right Swiss People's party, which on Tuesday succeeded in collecting enough signatures to force a referendum on banning minarets throughout the country. In Britain, as Peter Oborne's Channel 4 film on Islamophobia this week underlined, a mendacious media and political campaign has fed anti-Muslim hostility and violence since the 2005 London bombings - just as hostility to asylum seekers was whipped up in the 1990s. The social and democratic degeneration now reached by Italy can happen anywhere in the current climate. Italy has a further lesson for Britain and the rest of Europe. Berlusconi's election victory in April was built on the collapse of confidence in the centre-left government of Romano Prodi, which stuck to a narrow neoliberal programme and miserably failed to deliver to its own voters. Meanwhile, centre-left politicians such as Walter Veltroni, the former mayor of Rome, pandered to, rather than challenged, the xenophobic agenda of the rightwing parties - tearing down Gypsy camps himself and absurdly claiming last year that 75% of all crime was committed by Romanians (often confused with Roma in Italy).

What was needed instead, as in the case of other countries experiencing large-scale immigration, was public action to provide decent housing and jobs, clamp down on exploitation of migrant workers and support economic development in Europe's neighbours. That opportunity has now been lost, as Italy is gripped by an ominous and retrograde spasm. The persecution of Gypsies is Italy's shame - and a warning to us all.
© Comment is free - Guardian


11/7/2008- Italy's plan to fingerprint the country's Roma is for their own good, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, visiting Israel this week, told Haaretz. The plan has raised an uproar in Europe: The European Union parliament called the fingerprinting clear racial discrimination yesterday, and ordered the Italians to stop the process. An assembly resolution adopted in Strasbourg stated the measure flouts EU human rights treaties and that citizens of Roma (Gypsy) origin must be treated no differently than those of other ethnic groups, who are not fingerprinted. Frattini, who is visiting Israel this week, said the furor stemmed from a complete misunderstanding. The Italian initiative is intended to protect human rights, not infringe on them, he said.

"Italy would never violate human rights," said Frattini, who served until recently as the EU's commissioner for justice and security. "We are not talking about raids against Roma, only an attempt to identify those living in our country. "Thousands of people live in our cities without visas or any documents, in inhuman conditions," he said. "Hundreds of children have asked us to fingerprint them so that we could give them temporary papers ... these children must be protected. By giving them papers, I am actually saving them." Some 150,000 gypsies live in squalor in 700 camps, mainly around Rome, Milan and Naples. Some 40 percent of them have Italian citizenship while the rest are immigrants, mainly from Romania and the Balkan states.

EU Parliament members have expressed concern over Italy's argument that the Gypsy camps around large cities necessitate an emergency situation. Massimo Barra, head of the Italian Red Cross, said the fingerprinting initiative was aimed at integrating Roma into Italian society. Others, like Tito Brunelli, a former Verona councillor in charge of social policy and immigration, believe the Gypsies were being identified only so that they could be expelled. Amos Luzzatto, former head of the Union of Jewish Communities, said the policy was dangerous and recalled the racist laws Mussolini enacted in 1938. "Italy has lost its memory," he said.
© Haaretz


27/6/2008- Italy has found itself under heavy criticism for a proposed crack-down on clandestine migration by fingerprinting Roma individuals, including children, with the European Commission admitting such a move would violate EU anti-discrimination rules and respect for fundamental rights. According to Italian media reports, interior minister Roberto Maroni has announced plans to conduct a census under which all the Roma will be fingerprinted. "It is a proper census to guarantee that those who have the right to stay can live in decent conditions and to let us send home those who don't have the right to stay in Italy," Mr Maroni said. The minister - a member of the anti-immigration Northern League, which entered the Silvio Berlusconi's government following elections in April - has rejected accusations of "ethnic cataloguing."

The European Commission, tasked to oversee whether EU legislation is properly applied in member states, was at first reluctant to react to "statements by a politician". Only when journalists insisted, the commission spokesperson said: "If you what to know an answer to whether it is possible, the answer is implicitly clear, the answer is no". The spokesperson underlined that Brussels "is as attached to fundamental rights and the fight against discrimination as any other European institution". The question will be put to the Italians "at the very moment when a member state decides to use a legal tool" to fulfil its declarations, he added. Earlier this week, the plans to fingerprint Italy's Roma community drew comparisons to the policies of Benito Mussolini, the country fascist leader during the second world war. "I remember when I could not go to school with the others," Amos Luzzatto from Italy's Union of Jewish Communities said, according to the Daily Telegraph. "There is a latent racism in Italian culture and it manifests itself cyclically," Mr Luzzatto added, stressing that "taking the fingerprints of youngsters from one ethnic group implies that you consider them to be congenital thieves."

UNICEF, the UN organization advocating children rights, has expressed shock and deep concern and called the proposal "provocative". But despite sharp criticism, Mr Maroni has defended the plan, saying "this is the right path". "The people like UNICEF, who complain, should visit the camps and see the conditions in which children live," he said, the Daily Telegraph reports. Some 160,000 Roma are estimated to live in Italy. Many live there without official permission and have set up temporary camps. The most recent census recorded 80,000 of them as being minors. Amid claims of rising crime that the right blames on immigrants, the Italian government has kicked off a legislative process aimed at tightening up the country's immigration policy. For example, it is to be a crime punishable by up to four years in jail to enter the country illegally. The UN High Commission for Refugees has previously urged Italy to drop its intention to make illegal immigration a criminal offence. It said one in three people who arrive in Italy seek asylum.
© EUobserver

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