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by Guy Dinmore in Rome

Published: March 2 2009 01:32

Italy’s Red Cross has launched its biggest vaccination programme since the second world war, with the goal of immunising several thousand gypsy children living in camps around Rome.

The operation began at Casilino 900, a camp on the eastern outskirts of the capital that is believed to be one of the largest gypsy settlements in Europe. Some two dozen doctors were among 200 Red Cross volunteers that included clowns to provide entertainment in one of the big tents erected for the exercise.

The Red Cross action comes at a critical moment for Rome, with its human rights record under the international spotlight. Gianni Alemanno, the capital’s right-wing mayor, is under scrutiny for his plans to remove almost all the 50 or so legal and illegal gypsy camps around Rome and replace them with a small number of “maxi-camps” . Non-Italian gypsies without proper documentation, mostly from Romania and the Balkans, will be obliged to leave and could face expulsion from Italy.

A Council of Europe report to be released soon is expected to be highly critical of the squalid conditions in the camps, and particularly the treatment of children born in Italy but denied citizenship.

Casilino 900, its shacks and caravans the home for some decades for gypsies from the former Yugoslavia, is under threat of closure. It was one of many camps raided by police and regular army units recently in search of suspected criminals and those without proper documentation. Casilino 900 residents said about 40 men were detained last week.

This sense of fear and uncertainty, explained one woman, was a reason some families had not brought forward their children for vaccination. By mid-afternoon on Saturday about 160 children – accompanied by their mothers – had been vaccinated, with about 100 still not seen by the doctors.

An earlier Red Cross campaign commissioned by mayors to carry out a voluntary census of gypsy camps in Italy’s three biggest cities – Rome, Milan and Naples – ran into similar problems, with residents afraid that the headcount would be a prelude to mass expulsions. Such fears grew in recent weeks when police and army, using their own lists, entered camps and took away suspects.

Mr Alemanno’s plans, while still lacking in detail – including proposed sites for the new camps – have been generally welcomed by Romans who see the gypsy settlements as a health and security hazard.
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Brussels, 27/02/2009 - Ethnic discrimination on the Belgian labour market, neo-Nazi extremism in Austria and abuses against Roma in nine EU countries are some of the findings of the 2008 US government report on human rights.

The report, issued on Wednesday (25 February) by the State Department for each country of the world, says that the Belgian government "generally respected the human rights of its citizens," but found several problems, such as overcrowded prisons, lengthy pre-trial detention, poor detention conditions prior to expulsion and "ethnic discrimination in the job market."

Roma are discriminated against and excluded in a number of EU societies (Photo: Studii Romani)

Labour discrimination was directed particularly against young men from the Muslim community, estimated at 450,000 people, principally of Moroccan and Turkish origin.

Discrimination regarding housing, restaurant access and an increase of racism on the internet were also noted.

"On July 10, the European Court of Justice ruled that a manufacturer of automatic garage doors had discriminated when he refused to hire a Moroccan applicant under the pretext that his clients would object to having a Moroccan worker in their homes. The case was referred to a labour court for sentencing under the antidiscrimination law," the report states.

Neo-Nazi incidents and "rightwing extremism and xenophobia directed against ethnic minorities" were a cause of concern in Austria.

"In 2007 the Ministry of the Interior recorded 240 neo-Nazi, right-wing extremist, and xenophobic incidents directed against members of minority groups. The government continued to express concern over the activities of extreme right-wing skinhead and neo-Nazi groups, many with links to organizations in other countries," the US report notes.

Despite being discriminated against in employment and housing, the situation of Roma people in Austria had "significantly improved in recent years," with children being moved out of "special needs" into mainstream classes. The government also initiated programmes in recent years to document the Romani Holocaust and compensate its victims.

This was however not the case in nine other EU countries: Italy, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria, where discrimination and even violence against Roma is on the rise.

On Monday, a Roma man and his son were shot to death in a village in Hungary as they were fleeing their home, which had been set on fire. The Hungarian ministry of Interior promised to step up policing in rural areas, but admitted that it could not prevent all racist incidents, which had increased in the recent months.

EU commissioner for social affairs Vladimir Spidla reacted to the incident, as well as other measures, such as Italy's controversial crackdown on Roma camps.

"The European Commission strongly condemns all forms of violence against Roma and calls upon the authorities of all Member States to guarantee the personal safety of all persons on their territory," he said in a statement.

Mr Spidla was "deeply concerned" that in some member states, "Roma have become the target of organised racist violence - fed by political populism, hate speech and media hype."

"In some cases, Roma are being made scapegoats for wider societal problems."

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