Letter to Prime Minister of Italy

04 August 1999

On August 4, 1999, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, sent a letter to the Prime Minister of Italy, Mr Massimo D'Alema, calling his attention to the issue of Romani refugees from Kosovo in Italy. Copies of the letter were also sent to the Italian Foreign and Interior Ministers. The text of the letter follows:

Honourable Prime Minister D'Alema,

On behalf of the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, I am writing to you today to draw your attention to the issue of Roma/Gypsy refugees from Kosovo who have been arriving in Italy during the course of the last six weeks.

In the course of field research in Kosovo in early July, the ERRC documented serious human rights violations against Roma by ethnic Albanians, and noted that ethnic Albanians appear to be acting with disturbing unity to drive Roma out of the province. The ERRC made public the main results of field research in a press statement on July 9, as well as by releasing the transcripts of ERRC interviews from the period July 2-18 on August 2. Additionally, the ERRC expressed its concerns that KFOR troops, including troops under Italian command, were failing to provide adequate protection to Roma in Kosovo, in a letter to UN Secretary General H.E. Kofi Annan on July 16. Those three documents are attached herewith.

The ERRC was subsequently dismayed to learn on July 20 that, according to international press reports, Italian authorities were intending to cease regarding persons fleeing Yugoslavia as refugees, but would instead treat them as illegal immigrants. According to reports of the Associated Press from July 20, the Italian Interior Ministry intended to regard the issue as one of human trafficking rather than the flight of persons persecuted on ethnic grounds. Ministry Spokesperson Daniela Pugliese reportedly stated that the Ministry did not accept that the lives of Roma are at risk in Kosovo.

The ERRC notes that in the days prior to and since the Ministry's statement, according to reports in the Italian and international press, thousands of Roma from Kosovo have fled to Italy and are presently in the care of Italian authorities. Their expulsion from Italy would be, in the present circumstances, both morally repugnant, and would constitute inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as well as Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The European Roma Rights Center strongly urges that Roma who have fled Kosovo and arrived in Italy be provided international protection in Italy. Since Roma as a group have been targeted for violent attack by ethnic Albanians and all Roma from Kosovo can demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution in that province, they should be considered refugees in the sense of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The ERRC additionally appeals to your office to ensure that Roma presently in Kosovo in areas under Italian KFOR command be adequately protected.

Respectfully,

Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director

ERRC documents referred to in the letter to Prime Minister D'Alema can be found on the internet at: http://errc.org. Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact Prime Minister D'Alema at fax: (39 06) 67 83 838

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