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Italy Called To Account Over Roma

  • October 9th, 2010
  • Posted by EUEditor

roma-stormfrontorg.jpegThe European Commission has been demanding answers from Italy over accusations of indirect discrimination against migrant workers and their children, focused on a housing issue in  Milan.

Kayla Millhouse writes …

ACTING TOGETHER ON IMMIGRATION

In the recent uproar over moves by France to round up and deport Roma, or gypsies, Italy’s right-of-centre Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi (picture) , was the only friend speaking in support of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

berlusconi-2001-ec.jpgWith a policy record of his own, for expulsion of foreigners deemed to be a risk to security, he said at the Brussels summit last month, that difficulties of governments over migration were being poorly understood. (See EUAustralia Online, “Row over the Roma festers”, 17.9.10).

PROBLEMS OVER HOUSING RIGHTS

His government has been requested by the Commission, through the means of  a “reasoned opinion”, that Italy put an end to unfair conditions in competition for university students to gain access to low rent apartments in Milan.

The Sondrio Province, owners of the apartments, had stated that for students to gain access they must have resided in the province for the past five years.

Italy was also threatened with legal action last year (8.10.09) when the original public notices, declaring the terms of competition for places, read that applicants must be “an Italian national and… have resided in the territory in the preceding five years”.

BACKGROUND OF COMMUNITY TENSION

This is not the first time the country has been accused of discriminatory practices.

Claims of discrimination and xenophobia against Italy, as well as other EU member states, have been ongoing, especially in regard to Roma, and the Sinti – a gypsy community with different historical roots to the majority of the Roma.

eu-flag-site-reduced.pngThe European Commission claims that indirect discrimination occurs, where the rules of competition make it more difficult for students from families of migrant workers to succeed, as non-residents are normally foreigners.

Despite the EC’s interest, the rights organisation Amnesty International has accused it of actually  “turning a blind eye”, as new legislation and government administrative action  targeting Roma began appearing throughout Europe.

European Law allows EU citizens to work in another country without a work permit and to live in that host country even after that employment has ended.

According to the EU law on the free movement of workers they are entitled to “equal treatment with nationals in access to employment, working conditions and all other social and tax advantages that may help integrate in the host country.”

The EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, Vladimír Špidla, believes the right of free movement is an important element in upholding equal citizenship.

“Free movement is a founding principle of the EU which ensures people are not being discriminated against on the basis of nationality.

“ Grants awarded to students for maintenance are a social advantage which should be allocated without discrimination to migrant workers and their children”, he has said.

He is faced though with challenges from member governments, like the government in Rome.

ROMA DATABASE

In May 2008 Italy declared a state of emergency, permitting the issue of presidential decrees and  orders which resulted in a census of all Roma in particular regions.

According to the Open Society Institute (Soros foundations) this allowed for the collection of “personal data, fingerprints and photographs of Roma living in unofficial settlements, allowing the creation of a Roma database”.

The Institute says the Italian government initially claimed that database would be used to expel certain categories of Roma from Italy, and it described that as invoking bad memories of racial politics in Europe.

“European history demonstrates the dangers of building a dossier that can be used to target, stigmatise or ultimately ‘cleanse’ a particular ethnic group from a country”, it said.

In the background is a period marked by discrimination and hate crimes against Roma living in Italy, understood to have been sparked by the brutal murder of Giovanna Reggiani, 47, the wife of a naval officer, near a suburban railway station in November 2007.

She was robbed, sexually assaulted and then beaten with what a police spokesman called “unparalleled ferocity”, according to reports of the time, and the man arrested was an immigrant Roma.

He had been allowed to enter Italy from Romania, after restrictions were lifted in 2002, as that country entered the European Union.

INCIDENTS IN ITALY

Ms Reggiani’s death was among several incidents reported throughout Italy, of crime attributable to Roma, leading the country’s President, Giorgio Napolitano, to a make a declaration:

“In the last few years the proportion of crime committed by foreigners has increased, and those who commit most crime are the Romanians”, he said.

There were other speeches targetting Roma and Sinti, from such quarters as the anti-immigration  party, National Alliance, and scattered violent attacks on immigrants.

For example a BBC radio report in May 2008 said police were forced to protect Roma under attack from local residents in Naples.

Camps had been attacked after a girl aged 16 allegedly attempted to kidnap a six month old baby; she’d been caught inside an apartment.

Amnesty International is among many human rights groups that have been documenting cases of mistreatment of Roma or Sinti.

Claudio Cordone, from Amnesty International, says the European Union should offer better protection  and make EU countries accountable for actions taking place within their borders.

“EU leaders must adopt a concrete plan of action to address the human rights abuses faced by Romani communities.

“They must speak up against racist attacks and hate speech and provide concrete measures to end discrimination in access to housing, education, health and employment”, he said.

However with elections this year, most recently in the Netherlands and Sweden, showing a strong segment of voters willing to support extremist parties against immigration, political leaders can be expected to equivocate, with yet more conflict at community level, expected also.

Reference

Amnesty International, 2010, “Europe Must Break Cycle of Discrimination Facing Roma”. http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/europe-must-break-cycle-discrimination-facing-roma-2010-04-06, (9.10.10).

Amnesty International, 2010, “Rising Tide of Xenophobia in Italy”. http://www.amnesty.org.au/news/comments/22361/, (9.10.10).

European Commission: Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunity. “Free Movement – EU Nationals”. http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=457&langId=en, (9.10.10).

EC, Brussels, “Free movement of workers: EU requests Italy to end discriminatory access to student accomodation”, 24.6.10, IP/10/802. http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/10/802&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en, (13.10.10).

BBC News, “Italy Police to Protect Gypsies”, 14.5.08. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7400460.stm, (9.10.10).

John Hooper, Rome, “Italian woman’s murder prompts expulsion threat to Romanians”, The Guardian, Manchester, 2.11.07. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/nov/02/italy.international, (9.10.10).

Open Society Foundation, NY, “Hearing on Roma Discrimination in Italy Marks Progress, but Crisis Unresolved”, 17.9.10. http://www.soros.org/initiatives/justice/focus/equality_citizenship/news/roma-italy-20100917, (9.10.10).

Leigh Phillips, Kate Connolly and Lizzie Davies, “EU turning blind eye to discrimination against Roma, say human rights groups”, The Guardian, Manchester, 3.7.10 . http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/30/european-union-roma-human-rights, (9.10.10).

University World News, HE Web Publishing Ltd., London2009, “Europe: Italian Competition Discriminatory – Commission”.http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20091015163604907, (9.10.10).

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