Sunday, September 05, 2010

italian cities plan mass gypsy expulsion

NYTimes | Some 20 years ago, Marco Deragna, a Roma whose family has been in Italy for generations, moved to a field on the outskirts of metropolitan Milan and made his home there.

Today, his prefab house on wheels — painted bright yellow with dark green shutters — is part of a sizable nucleus of mostly well-kept dwellings that house about 120 Roma, along with their horses, dogs, chickens, turkeys and even peacocks. But the camp’s days are numbered.

The Milan government plans to shut several of the city’s 12 authorized camps. The settlement where Mr. Deragna lives is set to become a transitory encampment for evicted Roma, with a maximum stay of three years.

Mr. Deragna says that he and the other families who have lived there for nearly two decades were not given many viable alternatives after being told they would have to leave. “These homes are the fruit of years of work here, and now the city wants to send us away without offering a solution,” Mr. Deragna said. “We have nothing. Where will we go?”

The treatment of the Roma, also known as Gypsies, became a major issue this summer in France, where the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy has expelled hundreds of people. But the conflict has prompted a similar, if more subdued, debate in Italy. Some critics even say Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government has led the way on this issue in the European Union.

“Sarkozy is merely following the Berlusconi model,” said Pietro Massarotto, the president of Naga, a Milanese organization that provides assistance to immigrants and Roma. “The Italian government invented expulsions of E.U. citizens, in the case they can’t demonstrate they are making a living.”

In dozens of Italian cities, local administrations have been pursuing similar policies to deal with Italy’s Roma and the Sinti, another Romany population that has settled throughout Italy (they number from 150,000 to 300,000, though official statistics do not exist). The local governments have been dismantling authorized camps, while bulldozing unauthorized camps and evicting residents.

When municipally authorized camps are built, they are often on the outskirts of a city, segregated from the rest of the population. Living conditions in all camps — legal and not — are not always adequate, critics say.

“There’s a willful misunderstanding about the Roma being nomadic,” Mr. Massarotto said. He said this had allowed governments to bypass the question of integration, a process that would include giving Roma permanent residences and access to schools. “They are forced to be nomadic,” he said, and that leads to “progressive impoverishment.”