Roma moved ‘like pawns on a chessboard’ under Rome’s ’Nomad Plan’

By Matteo de Bellis, Campaigner for Amnesty International’s EU team

With summer holidays upon them, many school-children in Rome are about to enjoy a few months respite from study.

But for Roma children living in the Tor de’ Cenci camp, on the city’s southern outskirts, the last day of school may instead bring the bitter taste of a forced move and uncertainty about which school will take them next year.

We spent two days in Tor de’ Cenci talking with people living there. Most of them told us they don’t want to leave, but they seem resigned to the fact that the camp will be closed anyway, whether they consent or not.

Tor de’ Cenci is very close to a residential neighbourhood, so for some 15 years Roma living there have enjoyed easy access to basic services such as local doctors’ practices and shops.

And with their children attending local schools they have enjoyed a degree of social inclusion that is rare for Roma communities.

The camp has its origins in the late 1990s, when local authorities relocated Roma families there from another settlement. The local government installed residential containers and built a sewage system. Residents were given official title to their containers, and a street sign was erected to direct visitors towards the camp.

But in recent years the mood has changed, with local authorities referring to Tor de’ Cenci as a “tolerated” camp.

In 2009 they announced its closure as part of Rome’s “Nomad Plan”, devised under a state of emergency now expired, which will result in those living in certain settlements around the city being forced to move to authorized camps, which are invariably located in remote areas.

Although past announcements that the camp’s closure was imminent were not implemented, this time, words may be followed by action: local authorities intend to clear the area by mid-July.

Tor de’ Cenci is in a dire state, with containers getting old and the sewage system in need of upgrading. Local authorities mention health and safety reasons to justify the camp’s closure. This sounds odd, since it is the local authorities which are responsible for proper maintenance to ensure conditions meet the proper standards.

“This camp has been abandoned by the authorities since 2009,” said Dijana, a Tor de’ Cenci resident who is originally from Bosnia.

When we spoke with the local authorities, they blamed the residents for conditions at the camp and promised to share documents proving they performed adequate maintenance there – we remain eager to see such proof.

One way or another, it’s clear that Tor de’ Cenci will be closed – the option of a refurbishment has not even been considered under the current administration.

Its inhabitants are expected to move to La Barbuta, a new camp for 650 residents built under the “Nomad Plan”.

Located in a remote area at the outskirts of Rome, it is completely surrounded by fences and cameras. Those spending their holidays in Rome may well spot it from their aeroplane, as the camp is disturbingly close to the runway at Ciampino airport.

Now that La Barbuta camp is ready, local authorities are in a hurry to fill it, moving Roma from other camps like pawns on a chessboard.

This is the only option on the table for the Roma of Tor de’ Cenci even though many would much prefer a proper house and some have been on waiting lists for social housing for years. The authorities keep saying that there is no money for social housing for Roma.

But somehow almost €10 million euro was found to build La Barbuta.

It is hard to understand how this could be consistent with the National Strategy for Roma Inclusion, which Italy submitted to the EU earlier this year, promising action to combat segregation in camps.

During our two-day visit to Tor de’ Cenci, not a single Roma resident told us that camps are where they want to live.

“Stop camps, bloody camps”, as one man put it – he couldn’t have been any clearer.

Take action:

Italy must protect the rights of Roma with deeds and not just words (Online action, 16 May 2012)

Read more:

“We’d like a place to stay” – Milan’s Roma face eviction (Blog, 6 March 2012)Italian authorities urged to stop forced evictions of Roma (News story, 11 March 2010)