Roma Continue to Face Police Abuse and Housing Problems in Italy

07 February 2004

At around 5:00 PM on September 25, 2003, approximately 50 police officers forcefully destroyed illegal constructions at camp Via Masini in the central Italian city of Florence and beat the Ashkaeli residents after they began to throw stones at the officers in protest, according to the Italian non-governmental organisation Associazione Per La Difesa Dei Diritti Delle Minoranze ("Association"). The Association reported that, as a result of the police actions, one Ashkaeli teenager was hospitalised and several other children were beaten. The police reportedly entered the camp following several requests that had been sent to the camp residents to destroy the illegally constructed buildings. The camp was reportedly home to 180 Kosovo Ashkaelia, including between 80 and 100 children. Ashkaelia are an Albanian-speaking minority group in Kosovo widely regarded as "Gypsies" by non-Romani/non-Ashkaeli Kosovars. The group had been re-housed at the camp after it was destroyed by fire on June 8, 2003, in which they lost all of their personal belongings and documents. It is believed that an unattended cooking stove caused the fire. Local authorities accommodated the group in a nearby former hospital until, in mid-August, they were temporarily moved back to the camp and housed in trailers with access to water, electricity and fire hydrants. The Ashkaelia accepted to move back to the camp with the understanding that the local government had development plans for the area, but that they would be built a new camp along with Roma from the nearby camp Poderaccio in autumn 2003. However, as construction on the new camp had not started, the Ashkaelia built additional rooms onto their trailers without permission, because the trailers did not provide enough space due to the size of the families.

The local prosecutor was reportedly investigating the case and the Association had informed the prosecutor of the version of events provided by the camp residents. As of December 1, local authorities had still not begun building the new camp.

Earlier, on September 17, 2003, the Italian anti-racism group Cesar K informed the ERRC of the precarious housing situation of a group of Roma living in the northern Italian city of Verona. According to Cesar K, in August 2003, 220 Roma, primarily from Romania, were moved from the 72 caravan camp in which they had been housed by local authorities eight months earlier, after their illegal settlement had been destroyed. Many of the Roma had not succeeded in regularising their stay in Italy, so they were forced to beg, as they could not access legal employment. The segregated housing schemes were reportedly an attempt by the local government to eradicate Romani begging. Don Calabria, a Catholic organisation working with the families, was reportedly attempting to procure legal documents for Romani parents of children attending school. At the behest of Don Calabria, the families which had sent their children to school the year earlier were moved to two separate areas on the southern periphery of the city following a 3-year agreement made between the local government and Don Calabria. Twenty families were housed in caravans in a parking lot and approximately 20 more families were housed in caravans at an abandoned school. As of October 7, 2003, the first site had already been dismantled and the families dispersed between the second site, public houses and shelters.

Thirty families comprising approximately 90 people, including small children were reportedly not provided housing in the new locations. Some of the families remained at the site of the old camp while others left Verona. Cesar K reported that on August 28, 2003, women and children from the group were temporarily moved to the building of a former school where, for four days, they were harassed by approximately 30 skinheads, who threatened to "Burn the Gypsies" and local residents, who were reportedly angered that the school had been closed to their children but given to "Gypsies". The men were left to their own devises and reportedly stayed on the grounds of a festival. The local government then moved the women and children to an old military airport outside Verona. As of October 7, the women and children remained at the same place, and their male family members had been permitted to join them. Cesar K was reportedly assisting six women from the group, who were pregnant or had small children, and their common-law spouses, obtain "Health Residence Permits", which gives them the right to stay in the country and access health care. On December 5, Cesar K informed the ERRC that the 10 Romani families remained at the old military airport and that none of the families had received legal permits to be in the country. A further 20 families that had left Verona in August when the camp was dismantled had returned and were living in tents under a highway overpass. Cesar K said it was negotiating with the municipality to obtain housing for the families. Additional information on the situation of Roma in Italy is available on the ERRC's website at: www.errc.org.

(Associazione Per La Difesa Dei Diritti Delle Minoranze, Cesar K, ERRC)

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