ERRC press release: Justice for Romani Families Collectively Expelled from Italy

The Italian government has settled cases brought against it before the European Court of Human Rights by Bosnian Romani families who were expelled collectively from Italy. on March 3, 2000. Pursuant to the settlement, Italy agreed to revoke the expulsion decrees, return the plaintiff families to Italy, grant them humanitarian residence permits, and pay financial damages of over 160,000 Euro. The applicants were represented by attorney Nicolo Paoletti of Rome, in collaboration with the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC).

In the first case, the applicants were Fatima Sejdovic and Izet Sulejmanovic and their two children, who were born in Italy in 1998 and 1999. In the second case, the applicants were Paso and Hadzira Sulejmanovic who, along with their children, had come to Italy in 1991 after fleeing the war in the former Yugoslavia. The applicants claimed that the police forced them out of their caravans at the Casilino 700 travellers' camp at gunpoint at 2:00 a.m. on March 3, 2000, and placed them, along with other Bosnian Romani families -- 56 persons in total -- on a chartered flight to Sarajevo. Mrs. Sejdovic had given birth to her youngest child less than three months earlier, on December 22, 1999. Allissa Sulejmanovic, the minor daughter of Paso and Hadzira Sulejmanovic, suffers from Down's syndrome and had reportedly undergone heart surgery in Rome shortly before being expelled from Italy.

In its admissibility decision of March 14, 2002, the European Court agreed to consider the applicants' complaints arising under Article 3 (prohibition of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment), Article 4 of Protocol 4 (prohibition of collective expulsions), Article 8 (right to privacy and family life) and Article 13 (requirement of an effective remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Among other things, the applicants argued that the deportation to Bosnia subjected them to serious mortal danger (their native villages were situated in the now-Serbian entity of Bosnia), that it presented grave risks to the health of the newborn baby and mother, and that Allissa Sulejmanovic would be placed at very serious health risk, without adequate access to the medical care she needed.

Several field investigations conducted by ERRC during the summer of 2002 resulted in substantial evidence supporting the applicants' claims. After their return to Bosnia, the Sulejmanovic family was forced out of Sarajevo and fled to Mostar, where they were also attacked by local residents. They then tried to set up their tents in a field in Jablanica and were chased away by police. They finally ended up living in a field in Livno, in the southeastern part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where they tried to eke out a living by collecting scrap and begging. They received no assistance from either the Bosnian government or from local or international humanitarian organizations. Allissa's health continued to deteriorate significantly.

"This family was living in horrific, sub-human conditions," said ERRC Legal Director Jean Garland. "They were in tents and shacks covered with plastic sheets near a garbage dump, without electricity, lights, water or toilets. They faced constants threats of violence and were even shot at a few times. To send families away to countries where they face such conditions clearly violates the European Convention's proscriptions on inhuman and degrading treatment."

In addition to returning the families to Italy and paying compensation, the settlement agreement also requires the Italian government to provide the families with temporary accommodation, school enrollment for the children, and medical care for Allissa. The total damages to be paid to all applicants is 161,293 Euro.

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