Italian court decision brings Europe one step closer to ending Romani statelessness
Budapest, Rome, 17 March 2016: A Romani woman of Bosnian origin was born and raised in Italy. When she turned eighteen, she applied for Italian citizenship. She was refused, but the Civil Court of Rome has now overturned that decision and confirmed that she is Italian.
The law says that a foreigner born in Italy, who has resided legally without interruption until reaching the age of majority, can apply for Italian citizenship. The parents of the woman were Bosnian citizens, and she was born in Turin. She could prove that she spent her whole life in Italy. But the authorities refused on a technicality: her parents had not completed all the registration formalities for her as a child. This is no innocent technicality though: in the 1990s many Roma uprooted by war in Yugoslavia came to Italy and, because of their precarious situation before and after they left, often did not meet all the administrative formalities in Italy. This woman’s problem is repeated many times over among young Roma who were born and have made their lives in the country. In order to end this discrimination, which leaves these Roma at risk of statelessness, the European Roma Rights Centre supported this woman in taking legal action against the Ministry of Interior to secure Italian citizenship for her. She was represented by local lawyer Alessandro Maiorca.
“The decision represents a great achievement.” – says Đorđe Jovanović, President of the European Roma Rights Centre. – “From now on this judgment can be invoked before reluctant local authorities who refuse to recognise Italian nationality iure soli to Roma. The decision provides a clear precedent and is a small step in our efforts to end Roma statelessness in Europe.”
When the plaintiff in the case turned eighteen, she applied for "election of citizenship", a procedure which allows people born and raised in Italy, but not Italian citizens, to naturalise. The local authority refused her application on the basis that she only secured a residence permit in 2009 (when she was fourteen); no one had completed the formalities for her sooner.
However, in 2013, only a year after her application, a new provision came into force which states that children cannot be held responsible for administrative failures of this kind that are attributable to their parents or the public administration.
The Italian court accepted the legal arguments made for the plaintiff that she should benefit from this provision, and that the requirements for lawful residence should be interpreted in the light of human rights principles. In particular, the court found that the 2013 provision had to be applied retroactively.
In 2014, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees launched its ten-year plan to eliminate statelessness.