Italian Police Tell Roma: Leave now or we will take away your kids

09 March 2018

By Jonathan Lee

Five Romani families have been forced to abandon their homes in Beinasco, Italy after police officers threatened to take away their children if they did not leave immediately. Many of the Roma are now living in caravans and campervans on the streets, in unseasonably cold weather with small children and people with medical conditions.

The Roma were living on a formal site known as “Borgaretto”, which was established after the municipality kicked them off a site which the Roma legally owned in order to build a public road in 2008. The families on the site were issued with an eviction notice on 20th December 2017 for “not respecting the regulations in force in the camp” according to the mayor, who refuses to explain what this means and has declined to respond to requests for comment.

The lawyer in contact with the ERRC, Gianluca Vitale, had been negotiating with authorities to try and secure the families alternative accommodation as is legally required in cases of forced eviction. The authorities agreed to halt the eviction until the 5th March due to the harsh weather conditions. However on Sunday 4th March, Carabinieri visited the camp and told the inhabitants that if they did not leave, they would return with social services and take their children into state care. All of the families had left the camp by the end of the next day, apart from one elderly woman, who was driven away by police on Wednesday morning when the bulldozers arrived to demolish their homes.

The families, including twelve children - one only a few weeks old - and a man with a severe heart condition, are now living scattered on the roads around Beinasco (Turin). Only one child from the site has been able to continue attending school, though he is now living with his family in a caravan on the streets.

The mayor of Beinasco has made good on promises he made to remove the camp when he was elected in 2010, according to ERRC human rights monitor Rosi Mangiacavallo. “The eviction order was very vague about the regulations that were supposedly broken” she says. “These people were forced from their homes in 2008 and made to go on this government site – now they are forced from this one too. This is a deliberate cleansing of Roma from the area.”

The mayor, who was present at the demolition on Wednesday 7th March, declared that in 2010 his citizens had “expressed very precise demands in terms of security”. He said “unfortunately, people in the camp have not taken the opportunity to integrate in the best way. It’s a disappointment, but the continued failure to comply with the regulations left us no choice”.

Gianluca Vitale, the lawyer representing the Romani families against the municipality, said that the Roma "did not create any problems” and that when they tried to mediate with authorities “we always found a wall in front of us”. In order to launch a discrimination case, there needs to be at least one person who is willing to take legal action, but the Romani families will not face the authorities for fear of losing their children.

Italy has a truly awful record of human rights violations against its Roma minority. Authorities routinely evict Romani people by force and either leave them on the streets, or put them in ethnically segregated container camps. Despite these actions, as well as fingerprinting Romani children, police harassment, denial of access to public services, denial of identity documents, and extreme hate speech from leading politicians: Brussels has responded with silence to Italy’s flagrant violations of the Racial Equality Directive. It seems the European Commission are more than happy to punish countries like Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia when they abuse the rights of their Romani minority, but are more reticent when it comes to a major Western member state.

When a large site at Gianturco, Naples was evicted last year, the European Commission said it was “monitoring the situation concerning Roma housing in Italy and is in contact with the Italian authorities on this matter.” No action has been taken in the year since, and a Financial Times article has actually exposed European leaders to be deliberately blocking EU infringement action against Italy.

The Romani families forced to leave their homes in Beinasco will have to start again from scratch. Their children will start again in new schools, probably after missing several months of education. Authorities will continue to harass, threaten and move on Roma across Italy, unless Brussels finally holds Italy accountable.

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