‘They are throwing us on the street like dogs’ – Europe abandons the Roma in Italy

In the last weeks, ahead of International Roma Day tomorrow, EU leaders in Brussels have been paying great lip service to Roma, Europe’s largest and most disadvantaged minority. 

Yet, this morning, hundreds of Roma in Italy were forcibly evicted from the Gianturco informal settlement in Naples. Their eviction is an unfortunate reminder of the discrimination suffered by the Roma, and the refusal of the European Commission to take action. The Financial Times yesterday revealed that that discrimination starts right at the top of the European Commission, as it refuses to open an infringement case against Italy for discriminating against Roma in the field of housing.

This morning more than 1,000 Roma were forcibly evicted from the Gianturco informal settlement in Naples

Catrinel Motoc, Amnesty International campaigner

Despite the leaders’ lofty words about equality of rights and inclusion being spoken in Brussels, the Financial Times revelation shows what we already knew – that they are doing nothing to stop the injustices, allowing Italy to discriminate and marginalize the Roma.

Segregated camps, discrimination in access to social housing and forced evictions remain a daily reality for thousands of the 170,000 Roma estimated to be living across Italy, around 40,000 of them in squalid camps. Italy has breached EU anti-discrimination and race equality legislation for years – in June last year 300 people were forcibly evicted from the Giugliano camp and moved to a the site of an abandoned fireworks factory. And yet the European Commission, despite being fully aware of the overwhelming evidence, has so far refused to take effective action against this blatant discrimination.

This September will mark five years since the Commission opened a preliminary infringement investigation against Italy – called a ‘pilot’. Since then, hundreds of forced evictions and other abuses have taken place, but the Commission has refused to hold Italy to account, despite it being their duty to uphold EU law.

Nobody knows this better than those who were forcibly evicted from Gianturco, a Roma settlement in Naples this morning. The people living there, some for six years, faced the daily threat of eviction for more than a year. At 7am today, dozens of police descended on the Gianturco settlement outside Naples to forcibly evict hundreds of Roma from their homes. By 11am, the only trace left behind were the clothes, toys, furniture, mattresses and gas canisters that many had had to abandon there. People were cruelly kicked out of the homes that they had invested in over a number of years, without being properly consulted or given adequate notice, with no compensation and many left without anywhere to go.

Why aren't they giving me a place? It's me and my wife. I cannot remain here waiting by these gates

Elderly Romani man from Gianturco

This treatment is not uncommon for Italy’s Roma – but Gianturco is particularly noteworthy because of the scale of the suffering – Initially up to 1,300 people were due to be forcibly evicted. However, fearing a heavy-handed eviction, dozens of families had already left the settlement to seek shelter when the bulldozers arrived. Of those who remained, buses this morning took some to a segregated container camp ‘Via del Riposo’, on a site which has previously been targeted by arsonists in a hate crime. Others are now homeless, many left standing outside the camp with their belongings unsure where they will sleep tonight.

We spoke to two children, brother and sister, one year apart, watching the bulldozers approaching their homes:

“Here we were fine, we liked it, we had 3 rooms, one for me, one for my brother, and one for my parents. The house was big. Where they will take us we don’t know how it will be.”

An elderly man, Costica, told Amnesty “Why aren’t they giving me a place? It’s me and my wife. What should I do? I cannot remain here waiting by these gates.”

The site of the new segregated container camp ‘Via del Riposo’, where some of the evicted families have been moved to today was targeted by arsonists in a hate crime in 2011. And graffiti such as “No Roma, enough” is visible nearby.

Inaction at all levels – from regional to national to the EU – has characterized the authorities’ response to discrimination and segregation of the Roma.

In February 2012, the Italian government adopted its National Strategy for Roma Inclusion, aiming to define the roadmap for public policies until 2020. It proposed the gradual elimination of poverty and social exclusion amongst marginalized Romani communities in four main areas: health care, education, employment and housing. The strategy promised to “overcome camps”, stating that “the liberation from the camp as a place of relational and physical degradation of families and people of Romani origin, and their relocation to decent housing, is possible”.

Despite EU leaders’ lofty words about equality of rights and inclusion they are doing nothing to stop the injustices

Catrinel Motoc, Amnesty International campaigner

However, more than five years on, those commitments ring hollow almost no progress in implementing sustainable integration and housing policies has been made at all. Repeated Italian governments have simply failed, indeed they have never really tried, to address the social exclusion and segregation of Roma.  The impending forced eviction of Gianturco is but one example of the merry-go round of evictions Roma are repeatedly subjected to across the country. Indeed one activist told Amnesty: “Gianturco is the result of evictions of Roma from various other places”.
Between 2013 and 2015, 168 forced evictions were carried out in the city of Rome alone, and some of the victims have been turfed out of their settlements multiple times by the authorities. In 2013 Italian authorities placed a group of Romani men, women and children in a Roma-only camp next to Ciampino airport runway in Rome, and didn’t provided suitable alternative accommodation for those people even after the Rome Civil Court ruled the relocation discriminatory.

The European Commission’s deliberate silence on Italy’s appalling treatment of Roma makes it complicit in the routine discrimination and segregation they face there. The Commission has the tools to hold Italy to account. Infringement proceedings launched against the Czech Republic for discrimination against Roma in education have prompted significant reforms. The Commission should be applying the same standards and the same pressure on Italy. Until they do, the heart-breaking scenes we witnessed today in Gianturco will be repeated again and again.

This article was published here by New Internationalist magazine.