Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Reports on the Situation of Roma
03 April 2006
The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Mr Alvaro Gil-Robles, presented his report on Italy, based on findings from his visit in June 2005, to the Committee of Ministers on 14 December 2005, noting in particular the lack of access to employment, housing, healthcare, and education for Roma.
During his time in Italy, the Commissioner visited the unofficial Romani camp Casilino 900 in Rome. He noted inadequate living conditions of Roma in this camp and others: "minimum access to water and electricity, and no roads, lighting, sewers or drainage. People live in broken-down caravans or homes knocked together out of salvaged materials. The camp, in other words, is best described as a shanty-town". The Commissioner pointed out in his report that the problem is widespread, reflected in the collective complaint concerning the problem of systematic substandard housing for Roma, recently declared admissible by the European Committee of Social Rights, brought against Italy by the ERRC.
Mr Gil-Robles' report noted that doctors from the mobile medical centre that visits the camp reported that "extremely harsh living conditions, added to poverty and integration problems, have serious effects on the health of Roma" evidenced in "chronic diseases, … (and) skin and respiratory conditions." The doctors further reported that medical monitoring and treatment is complicated by the fact that Roma have little or no access to medical care outside of visits by the mobile medical centre. The Commissioner noted that the specific situation of Roma at the Romani camp Casilino 900 was exemplary of Roma living throughout Italy: "In theory, they have the same rights as other people, but direct access to medical treatment is impeded by various factors, including lack of papers and ignorance of the system. Poverty also prevents them from consulting doctors when they need to, and access to treatment too often takes the form of lastminute hospital intervention."
The Commissioner also noted that access to education for Romani children is limited by the distance inherent in segregated housing and the precarious financial situations of most Romani families due to lack of employment opportunities. Further barriers to education exist with respect to registration as many Roma lack personal documentation. Schooling is mandatory up to the age of 13 but beyond that, registration can become increasingly difficult for most Romani children who are without residence permits. Without schooling, Romani children stand very little chance of finding work in Italy where qualifications are becoming increasingly important; and without work, they can neither integrate nor obtain papers. With respect to education, the Commissioner reported that "solutions allowing young Roma to attend school normally are urgently needed".
The inadequate living conditions and poor access to healthcare and education are exacerbated by the poverty Roma face as a direct result of barriers in access to employment. Social change and failure by authorities to implement certain legislation make it difficult for Roma to practice some traditional occupations. Non-Italian Roma have difficulty in obtaining residence permits or acquiring nationality as legislation requires a valid employment contract. Even though many Roma have lived in Italy for several decades, without formal work, they remain unable to regularise their lives and integrate into Italian society.
The report estimates that some 120,000 Roma live in Italy without the protection provided for by special minority status. Italian authorities believe Roma are nomads who prefer to live in camps and common prejudice labels them as foreign despite the fact that much of the Roma community in Italy is of Italian origin and citizenship.
In his recommendations to the Italian authorities, the Commissioner noted that actions should be taken to "provide easier access to residence permits and, when appropriate, Italian nationality for foreign members of the Roma community who have been residents in Italy for many years; continue programmes designed to help Roma to enter the labour market; implement, as a matter of priority, a national programme to provide Roma in shanty-towns with decent living conditions; and allow children without papers, including Roma children, to continue their schooling upon reaching the age of 13". Further information regarding the situation of Roma in Italy is available HERE.