Open Letter to European Commission on Climate of Hate

Budapest, Rome 18 July 2018: Today, the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) sent an open letter to Beatrice Covassi, the Head of the European Commission Representation in Italy, calling for resolute action from the European Commission to combat rising antigypsyism in Italy. Over the last week, hundreds of Roma Rights Defenders have also added their voice to the growing number calling for a response from the European Commission.

Dear Ms Covassi,

The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) is writing to express our dismay and protest at the climate of anti-Roma prejudice that has been deliberately stoked by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini; and to voice our concerns at the sequence of events that has followed his call to conduct a census of Romani people in Italy.

We call on the European Commission to take action to end repressive measures against Roma communities, and condemn hate speech from leading politicians as well as Italy’s failure to meet its commitments made in the National Strategy for the Inclusion of Roma, Sinti and Caminanti adopted on 28 February 2012.1

While the ERRC was encouraged by the prime minister’s statement, which dismissed conducting a census on the basis of ethnicity as “unconstitutional and discriminatory”2, we must protest at the racist and vitriolic statements by such a senior member of the coalition government, Matteo Salvini.

Disturbing footage has resurfaced of Minister Salvini calling for a “mass cleansing street by street, piazza by piazza, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.”3  We further object to his remark “Irregular foreigners will be deported via agreements with other countries, but Italian Roma unfortunately, we have to keep them at home.” It is absolutely unacceptable and unprecedented for an interior minister of a European Union Member State to express regret that he cannot expel his fellow citizens from their own country.

We believe that Salvini’s statements breach many provisions of EU law, including the prohibition on incitement to racial hatred, found in Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA, the prohibition on race discrimination in access to services and social protection found in Directive 2000/43, and the rules concerning processing of sensitive data by law enforcement, found in Article 10 of Directive 2016/680.

While the ethnic census may not go ahead, the provocative hate speech by Minister Salvini is prompting hard line responses from municipal authorities and inciting public hostility towards Roma. This is already evident from recent events such as the anti-Roma demonstration in Turin led by the far-right Forza Nuova on June 304; the action taken by the Mayor of Vicenza to extend the ban on Roma from certain public spaces and his declared intent to widen this ban to cover the entire territory of the municipality5; the evictions of several informal camps all over Italy; and the mass eviction on June 29 of the formal camp “Camping River” in Rome. This last action has left the majority of evictees homeless and on the streets.6

In another worrying development, it was reported that the Regional Council of Lombardy passed a motion to map the Roma and Sinti settlements in Lombardy “to implement the most suitable interventions to counteract the situations of urban illegality and degradation and to guarantee civil coexistence.” We concur with the Democratic Party, which condemned this motion as “racist and demagogic”, that this is a deliberate move to conduct an ethnic census of Roma, Sinti and Caminanti in Lombardy.7

We call on the Commission to take action and ensure there is not a return to the excesses of the so-called ‘Nomad Emergency’ of 2008-2011. This national emergency prompted widespread hate speech, intimidation, and mob violence against Roma communities, until the Italian Council of State ruled in 2011, that it was unfounded, unmotivated and unlawful. Such arbitrary repressive measures served only to exacerbate communal tensions, legitimize human rights abuses, and inflict irreparable damage to any prospects for social inclusion.

We urge the European Commission to ensure Italy abides by the Race Equality Directive and meet the commitments made in its National Roma Integration Strategy. It is a matter of urgency that the Commission take a firm stand against these racist, reactionary incidents and the Italian government’s repressive measures against Roma communities. 

Yours sincerely,

Ðorđe Jovanovic
ERRC President

For more information, or to arrange an interview contact:

Jonathan Lee
Communications Coordinator
European Roma Rights Centre
jonathan.lee@errc.org
+36 30 500 2118

Footnotes:

1. https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/italy_national_strategy_roma_inclusion_en.pdf.
2. "No one is planning to create files or conduct a census on the basis of ethnicity, which would be unconstitutional because it is clearly discriminatory.” https://www.dw.com/en/italian-prime-minister-giuseppe-conte-dismisses-roma-census-proposal-as-unconstitutional/a-44302357.
3. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/italy-matteo-salvini-video-immigration-mass-cleansing-roma-travellers-far-right-league-party-a8409506.html.
4. http://www.torinoggi.it/2018/06/30/leggi-notizia/argomenti/politica-11/articolo/in-strada-assieme-ai-residenti-di-mirafiori.html.
5. https://www.vvox.it/2018/06/30/vicenza-rucco-estende-divieto-a-roulottes-nomadi/.
6. http://www.dire.it/02-07-2018/217051-rom-sgombero-camping-river-abitanti-non-abbiamo-piu-nulla/.
7. http://milano.repubblica.it/cronaca/2018/07/03/news/lombardia_si_al_censimento_dei_nomadi_e_chiusura_campi_irregolari-200776287/?refresh_ce.

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