A Message to the European Institutions Concerning Policies on the Roma Group
By Roberto Malini, Matteo Pegoraro, Dario Picciau – EveryOne Group.
The European Union has demonstrated over the last few years that it possesses neither the experience nor adequate means for facing the "racism emergency". The situation in Italy, where every EU directive (starting from the 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000) and every international charter for the rights of minorities have been systematically violated by the institutions in their policies involving the Roma and immigrants, is symbolic of how resolutions and warnings are not sufficient for obtaining results on a civil level.
The EU Parliament, Commission and Council of Europe have expressed themselves several times, through every political means; warning first the Prodi Government and then the Berlusconi Government to abandon the repressive actions and "de facto" expulsion of thousands of EU citizens belonging to the Roma ethnic group.
The camp clearances without the offer of alternative humanitarian solutions; the violence used, and threats from the institutions; the practise of taking children from families living in hardship and the denial of any socio-medical assistance for Roma citizens, has led to a mass exodus of Roma (particularly Romanian Roma) from Italy to Spain, France or back to Romania. Over the last few years, in spite of the Decade of Roma Inclusion (which began in 2005) and all the European directives and resolutions against racism and in favour of a policy for the Roma, the situation of the so-called "nomads" has gradually deteriorated and no projects for social integration, no local ordinances and no emergency laws have been initiated to protect this ethnic group. If in 2005 there were between 180 - 210,000 Roma in Italy, today there are – as confirmed by the census – only about 70,000 remaining, living in disastrous social and sanitary conditions. The exodus, the infant mortality, illnesses and acts of violence have drastically reduced the number of Roma in Italy and a new humanitarian tragedy is expected with the onset of the cold weather. We have already had the first victims, but unfortunately it is only the beginning of a terrible period for these troubled people, whose average life span has fallen to around 40, with an appalling infant mortality rate.
What could the European institutions have done to prevent and counteract this tragedy in an effective way? First of all, they could have listened to the witnesses and all those who possess great experience in the field, experts who are in contact with the reality of the Roma, and who are studying the spread of anti-Roma sentiments in Italy: Marcel Courthiade; Juan de Dios Ramírez Heredia and Union Romani; Saimir Mile and La Voix des Rroms; Roberto Malini and EveryOne Group; Nico Grancea and "The Red Wheel"; Santino Spinelli and the Coordinamento Nazionale Antirazzista (National Anti-Discrimination Coordination) "Sa Phrala"; the MEPs Viktoria Mohacsi and Els de Groen, to mention just a few.
It is also necessary to realise that it is impossible to solve such an important problem by simply setting aside funds and waiting for the Member States to dip into these resources. First of all, it is necessary to lay down solid foundations for integration, starting with the countries where the Roma population is the most numerous and where the problems to be solved are particularly complex: Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Serbia, Slovakia, Macedonia, the Czech Republic etc. In Romania, for example, there are about two million Roma: a generation that is the child of endless persecution, six centuries of slavery, the Holocaust and deep-rooted discrimination.
Centuries of precarious living conditions and hardship have undermined the health of this ethnic group, which reveals a high percentage of serious congenital diseases and illnesses connected to poverty. We have to urgently set up a social assistance programme for these people, who make up at least 20% of the Roma population in Romania. We cannot speak (for human beings suffering from serious illnesses) of an integration based solely on integration into the workforce. We will be able to do that for the next generation if the tragedy of this precarious lifestyle is overcome by contemporary Europe. Another crucial point is the education of Roma children. It is not possible to think of integrating them into the school system if we don't first remove from society the racism that marginalizes them and puts them at a disadvantage before their peers. Schools should make a special effort to offer Roma children (especially those born into families living in extreme poverty) an "oasis" where they can find the tranquillity necessary for private study. Support groups, made up of teachers, but also parents, should be present to guarantee educational and psychological support.
For this part of the programme, we would ask you to read the Frame Statute for Romani People in the European Union*, a document which is the result of many years of experience and knowledge, a document that should be studied in depth by the European institutions and maybe adopted in their policies for the Roma people. And then, jobs. Silvio Berlusconi, who does not know the reality of the Roma in depth and who is the promoter of repressive policies towards them, recently stated during talks with the Romanian Prime Minister Călin Popescu Tăriceanu, that "the Roma entering Italy from Romania have no professional skills and are therefore forced to resort to criminal activities". This is not true, because Italian companies, after years of propaganda from politicians and the press filled with racial hatred refuse to offer Roma citizens jobs, even when they possess all the requirements, as they forejudge them as being unreliable.
EveryOne Group has begun a programme of integration for Roma workers with Italian companies, but with poor results due to this widespread prejudice. It is true, however, that not even in Romania do Roma citizens have equal opportunities compared to other citizens, and if finding a steady job is difficult for everyone there, it is even more difficult for the Roma, who are subjected to discrimination and hostility. It is therefore necessary that the European Union becomes the promoter and sponsor of professional integration programmes reserved for Roma citizens living in Romania (and other countries with large numbers of Roma and where integration programmes are few and far between) both in the usual factory jobs, in commerce, agriculture and handicrafts; and in the traditional Roma activities: cattle-farming, biological agriculture, metalwork, and the recycling of materials etc. At the same time it will be necessary to encourage access to all forms of study for Roma students.
In short, seeing the failure of the majority of projects - which remain only on paper – created for the integration of Roma citizens within the Member States (badly organized by some states and not even attempted by others, Italy among them) it is probably time to "reset" the programme where the EU's policies for the Roma are concerned and concentrate on improving their conditions and their ability to grow socially in Europe by carrying out projects at the source - in the countries they have lived in for centuries. It will probably be much easier for the Member States of the EU to overcome their racist, xenophobic qualms when their borders are crossed by people from the Roma ethnic group who are in possession of significant qualifications and skills, instead of families coming from situations of great hardship and in precarious health. In order to tackle all the points in this letter with a full knowledge of the facts, we repeat the invitation to read the Frame Statute of the Roma People in the European Union* very carefully as it contains answers to many of the questions that cause anguish, when it comes to the subject of the Roma people, in the countries of modern Europe.
Roberto Malini, Matteo Pegoraro, Dario Picciau – EveryOne Group.
Rome, October 15, 2008