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August 17, 2018
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Italy's Lombardy Region first to conduct census of Roma and Sinti, plans to raze illegal camps, Romani organizations protesting

10.7.2018 10:23
Representatives of Swiss Romani associations held a peaceful protest on 6 July 2018 in front of the Italian consulate in Zurich against Italy's discriminatory, racist measures against Romani and Sinti people living in encampments. (PHOTO:
Representatives of Swiss Romani associations held a peaceful protest on 6 July 2018 in front of the Italian consulate in Zurich against Italy's discriminatory, racist measures against Romani and Sinti people living in encampments. (PHOTO:

In Italy the legislature of Lombardy in the north of the country has given the green light to a discriminatory, unconstitutional census of Romani and Sinti people living in that region. Italian media report that a regional commission has been entrusted with auditing legally-established Romani settlements and that illegal ones are to be closed.

The bill was passed by the legislature in Lombardy with 39 members in favor, 31 against and one abstaining. "Only with a clear record of the Roma and Sinti settlements in Lombardy can we implement measures to combat illegal phenomena and support good coexistence," Riccardo De Corato, a member of the regional committee responsible for security, told the media.

Lombardy Region is governed by the right-wing Lega Lombarda. The social democratic PD (Partito Democratico) party is calling the planned head count "demagogic and racist."

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said two weeks ago that he supports such a head count of members of the Romani minority, which sparked agitation, and not just in Italy. Salvini argued that this "inventory" would facilitate the deportation of foreign nationals without valid residence permits.

"Romani people with Italian citizenship will be allowed to remain in the country, unfortunately," the Interior Minister said. The planned head count and Salvini's scandalous remarks resulted in a tempestuous debate in the European Parliament.

Luigi Di Maio, chair of the coalition government's partner party, Five Star, responded to Salvini by emphasizing that any head count of any part of the population on the basis of ethnic affiliation would be unconstitutional. Salvini eventually clarified that the official detention of Romani people living in Italy is not planned, nor is the registration of their fingerprints, but that he was just interested in creating a picture of the situation in the Romani settlements.

The head count is being welcomed by members of the nationalist party Forza Italia. In their view the aim is meant to be mapping the number of people living in legally-established settlements who are Roma and Sinti in order define the number of settlements and control their number in the region, as well as to follow, for example, school attendance by minors living in the settlements, etc.

Events in Lombardy are being followed with concern by Roma and Sinti people living in neighboring regions. Representatives of Swiss Romani associations held a peaceful protest in front of the Italian consulate on 6 July in Zurich to draw attention to the discriminatory, racist measures underway in Italy and to call for them to immediately cease.

The Swiss branch of the Society for Threatened Peoples reported about the protest. "It is important that, as Swiss Roma, we speak out publicly and demonstrate our solidarity. Romani people are Europeans like everybody else," said Muharem Savdo, an organizer of the protest.

"We are citizens of these countries, not foreign to them. That must be acknowledged and respected," Romani activist Rina Caldari said.

Some politicians in Lombardy have also actively spoken out against the head count. Regional Councillor Carmela Rozza (PD) submitted an amendment advocating for Lombardy Region to provide municipalities the necessary funding to administer encampments for use by Romani people.

Her amendment was rejected. Rozza then commented on the rejection to the Italian daily La Stampa as follows:  "This is a racist law. It is apparent that we want to do something about the settlements, but we need ad hoc financing and a plan. That is not what Lega and most of the center-right majority want - despite the fact that they are discussing children and their right to education, ultimately all they are arranging for is bulldozers."

zda, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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