Roma in Italy: forced nomadism
15 July 1999
On April 14, 1999, at about 8:30 am, police evicted around one hundred Roma from two slum houses in Via Castiglia, Milan, where they had been squatting. The evicted Roma were not offered alternative housing. The eviction was executed by approximately thirty police officers. They gave the Roma two hours to move out. Many men were at work, so their wives had to go and find them, which made the allotted time insufficient. The police conducted an identity check and found all the Roma to have Romanian passports or other adequate identification - most of the Roma there had immigrated from Romania. When all the Roma had left the houses, their doors were sealed off with concrete. The belongings and documents of Roma who had not been found in time remained inside the houses.
The operation was initiated by the municipality, which is the owner of the houses. It gave the squatters two options. The first was to break up the families and shelter the women and children under the Civil Protection programme. The other option was that they all move to another „camp" at Via Barzaghi, on the outskirts of the city. At that place there was no infrastructure at all: no toilets, water or electricity; there were also no barracks or other shelter. As neither option was viable, on April 19, 1999, a delegation consisting of representatives of the evicted Roma and supportive local NGOs met with members of the local council; Ms Claudia Fregoli, monitor for the ERRC for northern Italy, also participated. The delegation tried to make it clear to the councillors that the Roma needed housing. They were not believed. Councillor Fumagalli told them that normally what all Roma want is a camp and not a house. Councillor Fumagalli elected to stick to the preconception that all Roma are nomads who should be kept in the nomadic state apparently for their own good. This „anthropological" notion has been official policy in Italy the last twenty years. It has also been the main excuse of Italian authorities for systematically refusing to tackle the housing problem of both indigenous and immigrant Roma. When recently criticised on this point, the representative of Italy told the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in March 1999 that the criticism was unfounded as the Roma, being natural nomads, „preferred to stay in their camps".
The ERRC had visited the slums in Via Castiglia three months earlier, on January 27, 1999. On the day prior to the ERRC's initial visit, municipal authorities and police had destroyed with bulldozers makeshift barracks in an unauthorized camp in the same street; the Romani families had moved into the unoccupied house next door. Less than one hour before the visit of the ERRC, authorities had destroyed another Romani camp on the other side of the street and its inhabitants were left without shelter. Later they moved into an unoccupied slum house in Via Castiglia. At the time of the eviction, fifty-nine Romani families altogether were squatting there.