Italy makes move to clear out ‘illegal’ Roma camps

Italy's anti-immigrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini ordered a report Tuesday on the country's Roma population, with a view to shuttering overcrowded, "illegal" camps, provoking an angry response from rights campaigners.

Italy makes move to clear out 'illegal' Roma camps
Illustration photo: AFP

The head of the far-right League ordered the country's regional prefects to draw up “a report on the presence of Roma, Sinti and Caminanti” within two weeks, the interior ministry said in a statement.

“The aim is to verify the presence of illegal camps to draw up an eviction plan,” it said.

The Roma, Sinti and Caminanti are traditionally nomadic ethnic groups who have lived in Europe for centuries.

The Sinti are traditionally from west and central Europe, while Roma have their origins in the east and southeast of the continent. The Caminanti are believed to have their origins in the Norman occupation of Sicily.

The pro-Roma group Associazione 21 Luglio said Tuesday it was “deeply worried” by Salvini's order.

It slammed “a measure which clearly discriminates against these communities, since it does not affect, for example, formal or informal settlements inhabited by persons not belonging to these ethnic groups”.

Some 25,000 Roma, Sinti and Caminanti live in conditions of “housing segregation”, according to the association, accusing the government of maintaining “ethnic ghettos”.

About 15,000 members of the three groups reside in 127 formal settlements in Italy, often in the suburbs of large cities, according to the group.

The rest live instead in informal settlements, some of which are made up of just two to three families.

There are about 300 such informal settlements in Rome, the Associazione 21 Luglio told AFP.

Threats against the Roma and Sinti have increased under Salvini, who sparked controversy last year with his call for a new census of Roma, and for all non-Italians among them to be expelled from the country.

Salvini has also barred Italy's ports to charity vessels rescuing migrants at sea.

The Council of Europe estimates there are between 120,000 and 180,000 Roma, Sinti and Caminanti in Italy — one of the lowest concentrations in Europe.

Over half are Italian citizens with regular jobs and homes, but hate crimes against their less fortunate peers are rife.

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Rome residents join neo-fascists in racist attack on Roma community

Italian judicial authorities have opened a probe after around 200 Rome residents and neo-fascists torched bins and shouted racist abuse at Roma families being temporarily housed in their neighbourhood.

Rome residents join neo-fascists in racist attack on Roma community
File photo: Italian police in Rome.

“No to any form of violence, but no also to whoever dumps all the problems on the suburbs,” said far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, repeating his vow to close all Roma camps.

The situation in Torre Maura, east of Rome, degenerated on Tuesday night when around 70 Roma, including 30 children, were brought to be housed in a municipal building before being found a permanent home.

Some residents took to the streets to protest and were rapidly joined by activists from neo-fascist groups CasaPound and Forza Nuova.

Protesters set fire to bins and trampled on food that had been provided for the Roma families, while hurling racist abuse, Italian media reported Thursday.

“Get lost, if you come out, we'll kill you,” one protester shouted, the La Stampa newspaper reported.

“We should burn them,” another person shouted, against a background of chants of “Italy, fascism, revolution.”

Rome mayor Virginia Raggi, from the Five Star Movement which governs in a national coalition with Salvini's Lega, initially refused to cede to violence but then agreed to move the Roma families again.

More protesters shouted at the Roma and made Nazi salutes as they were taken away.

The judicial investigation will look into whether there was criminal damage and threats with racial hatred involved, Italian media said.

Anti-immigrant leader Salvini, also deputy prime minister, said after coming to power last year that he wanted a census of all Roma in Italy so that foreigners could be expelled.

“As for the Italian Roma, unfortunately one has to keep them at home,” he added.

Non-profit organisation Associazione 21 Luglio estimates there are between 120,000 and 180,000 Roma, Sinti and traveller people in Italy, of whom roughly 16,400 live in formally recognised camps.

Of the camp residents, 43 percent are Italian citizens, while the rest come from ex-Yugoslav countries — around 3,000 of whom are stateless.

Despite Roma making up at most 0.3 percent of Italy's population, they can be subject to extreme hostility from the general public. 

The people living in Roma camps are often blamed for a variety of petty crimes like pick-pocketing, copper theft and break-ins. 

Two of Rome's major organised crime gangs are headed up by two long-settled Sinti families that control drug distribution in certain sections of the city.