ERRC letter of concern to the Italian Parliament

18 December 1997

On December 18, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international
public interest law organisation which monitors the situation of Roma in
Europe and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, sent a
letter of concern to the Italian Parliament. The occasion of the letter
is present parliamentary debate concerning new legislation pertaining to
foreigners. In the letter, the ERRC expresses concern about the
treatment of the approximately 50,000 ex-Yugoslav Roma currently living
in Italy.

To: Senato della Repubblica
Roma - Italy

Senatore Massimo Villone, Presidente 1a Commissione Permanente
Senatore Ortensio Zecchino, Presidente 2a Commissione Permanente
Senatore Gian Giacomo Migone, Presidente 3a Commissione Permanente
Senatore Carlo Smuraglia, Presidente 11a Commissione Permanente
Senatore Francesco Carella, Presidente 12a Commissione Permanente
Senatore Fausto Marchetti
Senatore Stefano Boco
Senatore Giovanni Russo Spena
Senatore Stefano Semenzato
Senatore Luigi Marino

Camera dei Deputati
Roma - Italy

Onorevole Gabriella Pistone
Onorevole Rosa Russo Jervolino

Budapest, December 18, 1997

Honourable Member of Parliament,

It has come to the attention of the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the situation of Roma in Europe and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, that a new law on foreigners is currently being reviewed by the Italian Parliament. On the occasion of the new bill, the ERRC appeals to the Italian authorities to take firm steps to improve the miserable situation of the tens of thousands of immigrant Roma presently living in Italy.

Scenes witnessed by the ERRC in several places in the country, including the capital, suggest that Italy has thus far failed to take proper measures to integrate immigrants and refugees, especially Roma. Independent field research conducted in Italy in September 1997 revealed that the conditions in which the estimated 50,000 immigrant Roma are forced to live are deplorable and in no way meet even most elementary human needs. Despite the fact that some of them arrived in Italy thirty years ago, there has been no ambition whatsoever by the authorities to provide them with adequate housing. Instead, Roma live on the outskirts of towns in primitive camps ranging between 20 and 2,000 people. Their homes consist of vans or huts they have built for themselves. The more fortunate have chemical toilets and water-taps placed in the centre of the settlement, while numerous others have no sanitary facilities whatsoever. Most of them do not have legal residence in Italy and live under the constant threat of expulsion.

The Roma concerned come predominantly from Republic's of the former Yugoslavia, including Bosnia. The ERRC is aware that the situation of Roma all over the former Yugoslavia is presently precarious and believes that Roma have reason to fear discrimination and exclusion in the new states.

Following a fact-finding mission to Bosnia last year, the Council of Europe stated that Roma "risk finding themselves in the last position when looking for accommodation, jobs and a decent position in society." Repeated violent attacks against Roma, culminating in the recent killing in Belgrade by skinheads of a 14-year-old Romani boy, underscores the fact that even areas not affected by the ethno-genocidal wars in Bosnia and Croatia, Roma run the risk of being subjected to ethnically motivated attack.

The ERRC welcomes the initiatives by the Italian authorities to update the present legislation pertaining to foreigners and to bring it into harmony with the high standards of Europe. On the occasion of the drafting of the bill, we urge Italian authorities to renew their commitment to a common European home by normalising the status of the approximately 50,000 ex-Yugoslav Roma in Italy, and initiate programs aimed at their integration in society. A first valuable step would be the granting of legal residence in Italy, concomitant with the provision of basic amenities such as adequate water, electricity and sanitation.

Sincerely,
Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director

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