Racial Profiling: Roma (Gypsies) in Italy
by Sandhya Jain on 01 Sep 2008 0 Comment
Italy has dared comment on the Orissa situation, ignoring the gruesome pre-planned murder of Swami Laxmanananda and four disciples on Krishna Janmastami day. This blatant interference in India ’s internal affairs is to support evangelical aggression against India ’s native communities. Italy’s own treatment of the peaceful Roma people is less than exemplary - Editor
Just one week after coming to power in May, Italy ’s new centre-right government revived the old European prejudices against the Roma (Gypsies) with its decision to fingerprint and from 2010 put fingerprints on all national identity and residence cards (http://globeonline.wordpress.com).
As there was no pressing reason for such an elaborate programme, Roma leaders believe the real reason is to enable the government to continue taking fingerprints of Roma who live in camps - both legal and informal - on the outskirts of several Italian cities. It is a policy that harks back to the worst days of Benito Mussolini.
In June, Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League, announced that all residents of Roma camps, including children, would be fingerprinted. Though Rome insisted it was not identifying any specific groups, the fact remains that the crackdown mostly targetted Roma people of Eastern European descent. Gypsies are traditional nomadic people; they reverence traditional gods and are therefore hated, though they number hardly 150,000 in all.
The move immediately drew accusations of racism and discrimination from the UNICEF, the Council of Europe, the Catholic Church, and Amnesty International; it is a clear violation of European Union law. Yet, fingerprinting began immediately in the Naples area, and under the cover of a national programme, fingerprinting of residents of so called “nomad” camps can be done without interruption. Mr. Maroni was quoted by Corriere della Sera as saying the government would also go ahead with a Census of the Roma.
Thus, the Roma (Gypsies) are once again the target of an old prejudice. In the recent national elections, voters were seized with a fear called “security emergency.” Put simply, Italians feel that violent crime is rising, and is caused by foreigners. These fears were easily stoked into violence by agent provocateurs, and in May 2008 the Roma camps near Naples had to be evacuated after local people torched the shanties, instigated by rumours that a teenage Roma girl had tried to kidnap an Italian baby.
Her subsequent arrest led to bitter protests, followed by vigilante groups chasing Roma out of two squatter camps in the Ponticelli suburb of Naples by tossing Molotov cocktails into their huts. Eight hundred people are rendered homeless and a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a trailer with children, who narrowly escaped the fire that ensued. Reacting to this event, Northern League leader Umberto Bossi told the media:“People do what the political class can’t manage.”
A few days later, on 12-13 May in Florence , over 400 Roma were arbitrarily arrested, registered and fingerprinted, obviously as a prelude to deportation. Roma organisations in Italy say that these and other incidents in different parts of Italy are being fostered by anti-Roma statements from high-level politicians and state representatives. They demand that while designing new immigration rules, Italy ensure that its legislation conforms to the European Directive 2004/38 against Discrimination, the Race Equality Directive 2000/43 EC, the EU Migration Package and other European human rights treaties subscribed to by Italy .
Experts say the steep rise in legal and illegal immigration (as in other parts of Europe) has created a strong anti-immigrant sentiment in Italy , which increases every time a foreigner is accused of a heinous crime. Though Gypsies have lived in Italy since the 14th century, they are still regarded as outsiders – a telling commentary on secularism and national integration in that country. Worse, ordinary Italians are so ill-informed that after Romania joined the EU in 2007 and many Rumeni (Romanians) entered the country, they were confused with the Roma, who became victims of intensified prejudice!
The new government lost no time in promoting prejudice.  Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said his new measures would prevent “rage prevailing over civilized co-existence,” whatever that means. Italian Police Chief Antonio Manganelli said “only by blocking the entry into Italy of people who refuse to integrate, people who import crime, will we be able to help ease the fear that has crept across swathes of our country.” In other words, Italy just can’t tolerate diversity in any form!
Maroni also wanted to reintroduce passport controls at the Italian border, despite the fact that the European Union is a passport-free Schengen zone. Thus, instead of spreading awareness to overcome prejudice, the conservative government of Silvio Berlusconi is determined to exploit and magnify hysteria, pretending the measures are necessary to curtail street crime and begging. The excuse has few takers; the centre-left opposition has condemned the moves as uncivilized; centrist leader Pier Ferdinando Casini said “it is an act of racism.”
The fingerprinting of Roma on grounds of public security is just one in a series of discriminatory policies by Italian authorities. Since 2007, there has been an increase in the number of forced evictions such as that of the Tor di Quinto settlement in Rome where large numbers of people, including children and elderly, were left in the middle of the night after their settlement was destroyed.
In July, the EUs Justice and Home Affairs Council met in Brussels to discuss the acts of discrimination against Roma communities in Italy , resulting in the fingerprinting of Roma, including children. Mr. Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s EU Office, said that “After criticism from the Commission and the European Parliament, it is now time for EU member states to speak out against what has become a full-fledged campaign against Roma.”
Italy was forced to appear in Brussels and explain to EU the policy of fingerprinting Roma. Amnesty International insisted the policy was racist and violated the rights of all EU citizens. All opponents of the action noted that EU citizens of Roma origin are treated differently from other citizens in Italy , who are not required to submit their fingerprints.
The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, on 29 July 2008 produced a report after visiting Rome in June, and said: “Concern about security cannot be the only basis for immigration policy. Measures now being taken in Italy lack human rights and humanitarian principles and may spur further xenopohobia.” Hammarberg went to Rome after a series of anti-Roma and anti-Sinti protests, often very violent, and the rapid adoption or preparation of legislation aimed to introduce further controls on the freedom of movement of Roma and Sinti (a form of Apartheid), the criminalisation of irregular immigration and additional restrictions on immigration.
These overt acts of discrimination compelled a trio of independent United Nations human rights experts, namely, Special Rapporteur on Racism Doudou Diene, Independent Expert on minority issues Gay J. McDougall, and Special Rapporteur on the Human rights of Migrants Jorge Bustamante, to express concern at the exclusive targetting to the Roma minority (15 July 2008). They were appalled at the “aggressive and discriminatory rhetoric” used by political leaders, including Cabinet members: “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 among the general public.” This climate led extremist groups to attack Roma camps and individuals, they concluded.
The three experts asked the Italian Government to abide by its obligations under international human rights law, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination and the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.
The European Parliament adopted a resolution “urging the Italian Government to refrain from proceeding to the collection of fingerprints of the members of the Roma minority and from the use of fingerprints already collected, awaiting the forthcoming announced evaluation by the European Commission of the measures envisaged.” Marco Cappato (Radicals/Italy) said: “the real emergency existing in Italy is due to the endemic lack of democracy and legality as proven by the fact that Italy has the highest number of condemnations by the European Court of Human Rights.”
User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top