Roma in Italy forced to leave, crisis calls for EU action European Union

On the morning of April 22, at about 8:00, some police and municipal waste managers arrived under the concrete overpass on Rome’s Eastern Ring Road and expelled 15 Roma living in temporary settlements.

Within a few hours, temporary structures, tents, mattresses and camp stoves were cleaned up, and people were ordered to leave the noisy, dirty wasteland, which they briefly called home.

The evictions were one of five evictions carried out across Italy that week, as part of the regular cleanup by the authorities of the improvised settlements inhabited by uninhabited Romani families.

These camps are what the Italian government has long called “informal nomad camps”-informal means they are not one of the official isolation camps established by the government, and nomads mean they are only owned by the Romans who still live in Italian society. Domicile refers to nomads (based on the assumption that all Roma are essentially nomads).

Since the 1960s, the Italian authorities have been placing Roma in isolation camps on the fringe of the city, away from public services or without any chance of finding a job.

However, in 2008, then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declared a so-called “nomadic emergency”, which intensified the abuse of the Roma in the state. The nomadic emergency defined the presence of Roma in Italy as a threat to public safety. It created the power to conduct a census of Roma settlements and closed informal camps for Roma in order to detract from laws protecting human rights.

As a result, the Roma-only refugee camp built by the government became Italy’s main solution to its imaginary “nomadic problem”. The emergency turned the Roma into a safety issue, and then related policies were formulated, laying a template for how the authorities have dealt with the Roma since then.

The Italian government officially promised to stop the construction of new Roma-only camps in 2017, but according to the latest estimates of the Italian NGO Associazione 21 Luglio, the Italian authorities are still operating at least 119 isolation camps and shelters.

Over the years, living conditions in these camps have deteriorated significantly. The number of people living in most refugee camps has soared to an unbearable level. In response, the Italian government did not provide sufficient permanent housing to camp residents, but began to issue eviction orders and drive out residents with nowhere to go.

Most people expelled from these government-built refugee camps end up in informal refugee camps elsewhere, sometimes just a stone’s throw away from where the official refugee camps were once. Authorities have moved others to other official camps, shelters or temporary housing solutions. In any case, everyone can only live on borrowed time until the cycle of eviction and re-eviction begins again.

In the past four years, there have been 187 such Roman family evictions, leaving 3156 people homeless. These figures come from a census of forced evictions published by the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), compiled by news reports and civil society activists.

The census shows that forced evictions have been continuously carried out across Italy for many years (almost once a week). In general, these evictions constituted a large-scale human rights crisis, indicating that for the Roma, the “nomadic emergency” never really ended, but just became invisible.

Technically, many of these deportations are illegal under national and international law. They usually do so without proper negotiation, do not have a reasonable notice period, and often do not provide adequate alternative accommodation (usually only temporary accommodation).

However, the Italian authorities did not seem to lose any sleep due to the illegality of the actions taken against the Roma.

In 2018, the Roman authorities ignored the order of the European Court of Human Rights and demanded to evacuate the official camp of Camping River and expelled more than 300 Roma living there.

In the months after the eviction, only 9% of former residents found a housing solution. More than half of the Roma who were expelled ended up on the streets: under bridges, in cars or in makeshift informal camps. Another 99 people were transferred to reception centers or temporary facilities instead of comprehensive social housing.

In the past four years, most evictions recorded by the ERRC involved only a relatively small number of people, several families at a time, who were evicted from small informal camps. But the frequency of evictions is worrying. In recent months, several times a week, and even during the strict COVID-19 lockdown, evictions occurred last year.

If the evidence in the ERRC census has any misunderstandings about the reality of the Roma in Italy, it should be used as a wake-up call to the European Commission. The scale of the relocation crisis and the continued existence of the separated official camps are facing the European Commission’s decision in 2017 to block reports of the abuse of Roma in Italy and end the investigation of the issue for two years. after that.

Human rights activists have long argued that the establishment of official camps for Roma in Italy violated the European Union’s “Race Equality Directive” on the provision of housing. In addition, the ongoing eviction crisis clearly constitutes the “harassment deemed to be discriminatory” as also stipulated in the directive.

This is the enduring legacy of Berlusconi’s “nomadic emergency”. It should indicate to the European Commission that Italy still needs to respond to its treatment of Roma. Instead, the committee seemed to be convinced of the Italian government’s commitment to “overcoming the refugee camp system” and decided that the situation of the Roma in Italy does not require further action. Despite the continued existence of apartheid government camps and despite the discriminatory harassment of Roma families through repeated forced evictions, the Commission continued to postpone any action against Italy.

With regard to legal proceedings against Roma, it seems that more and more Eastern countries have a rule, while Western countries have another rule.

The European Commission has opened infringement procedures against the Roma in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and, most recently, Bulgaria, but it has not yet taken any action against stronger member states such as Italy.

The EU’s understatement proves what its Bureau of Fundamental Rights has said since 2018: The Racial Equality Directive is simply not suitable for protecting the rights of EU Roma. Many activists believe that this is not only a problem of mechanism failure, but also a fundamental transcendence of Brussels’ fundamental political will to take a hard line on racism, which goes beyond conferences and unimplemented “action plans.”

The European Commission has a moral responsibility to ensure that Italy provides equal access to social housing in order to implement its “Race Equality Directive”, not just throw Roma in isolated refugee camps or drive them away. Out of home. The longer the EU waits to take action, the stronger the message it will send to Italy and the rest of Europe to discriminate against Roma, and it will not be challenged.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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