In 2008, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi stepped up the state’s mistreatment of the Roma minority by declaring a so-called “Nomad Emergency” defining the presence of Roma in Italy as a threat to public security which created powers to conduct censuses in Roma settlements, as well as to close down informal Roma camps in derogation of laws that protect human rights.
As a result, government-built Roma-only camps became Italy’s main solution to its imagined “nomad problem”. The emergency turned Roma into a security issue, and the policies put in place then set the template for how authorities have been dealing with Roma ever since. The Italian government officially committed to stopping constructing new Roma-only camps in 2017, but there are at least 119 segregated camps and shelters still operated by authorities in Italy.
Living conditions in these camps deteriorated significantly. The number of people living in most camps ballooned way beyond capacity. In response, rather than providing adequate, permanent housing to camp residents, the Italian government started issuing eviction orders and kicking out residents who have nowhere else to go. The majority of people who have been evicted from these government-built camps ended up living in informal camps elsewhere.
Others have been relocated by the authorities into other formal camps, shelters, or temporary housing solutions. In any case, all are just living on borrowed time until the cycle of eviction and re-eviction begins again. In the past four years, there have been 187 such evictions of Romani families, making 3,156 people homeless.
There has been a steady trickle of forced evictions (almost one per week) going on for years across Italy. Taken as a whole, these evictions constitute a large-scale human rights crisis and show that for Roma, the “Nomad Emergency” never really ended, it just became invisible. Many of these evictions are illegal under national and international law. They are often carried out without proper consultation, without a reasonable notice period, and usually without adequate alternative accommodation being offered (usually only temporary shelter). Italian authorities do not seem to be losing any sleep over the illegality of their actions towards Roma.
In 2018, authorities in Rome ignored an order by the European Court of Human Rights to halt the evacuation of the Camping River formal camp and evicted more than 300 Roma living there. More than half of the evicted Roma ended up living on the streets: under bridges, in cars, or in makeshift informal camps. A further 99 people were transferred to reception centres or temporary facilities, rather than integrated social housing.
Most of the evictions over the last four years have involved relatively small numbers of people – several families at a time, evicted from small informal camps. But the frequency of the evictions is concerning. In recent months there have been several per week, and last year evictions took place even during the strict COVID-19 lockdowns.
Despite the continued existence of ethnically segregated government camps, despite the discriminatory harassment of Romani families through repeated forced evictions, the European Commission continues to defer any action against Italy. Increasingly it seems that there is one rule for member states in the East and another for those in the West when it comes to legal action over discrimination against Roma. While the European Commission has opened infringement procedures against the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and more recently Bulgaria, for discrimination against Roma, it is yet to take any action at all against more powerful member states such as Italy.
Many activists would argue that it is not simply a question of an ineffective mechanism, but of a fundamental lack of political will in Brussels to take a strong stance on racism that goes beyond conferences and unenforceable “action plans”. The European Commission has a duty to implement its Racial Equality Directive in a way that ensures Italy provides equal access to social housing for all, not just dump Roma in segregated camps or evict them from their homes.
Italy’s Roma forced eviction crisis demands EU action | European Union | Al Jazeera
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