The city of Rome is being taken court—over the construction next to an aiport runway of a segregated camp to house several hundred Roma.
The settlement, known as La Barbuta, opened in June; thirteen such camps were originally planned around Rome under a €30.5m program targeting the city's population of "nomadi", as Roma are officially referred to in Italy. The special settlements were conceived under emergency powers enacted in 2008 by the government of Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister; other anti-Roma measures taken under what was dubbed the “Nomad Emergency” included repatriations, forced evictions, and the taking of fingerprints for a Roma-only database.
Italy's policy of building segregated camps for Roma in the most deprived outskirts of large cities dates back to the 1970s, although La Barbuta is the first new camp to open in seven years.
This deliberate segregation—never emulated in other European states—is now being challenged in court for the first time, in an action brought by Associazione 21 Luglio, a local Roma rights group, and ASGI, an association of immigration and antidiscrimination lawyers.
The two groups, both supported by the Open Society Foundations, argue that the fenced-in La Barbuta camp perpetrates discrimination based on ethnic origin. La Barbuta is not just another public housing project: it was established exclusively for Roma; it is geographically isolated from other residential communities, next to the runway of Rome's Ciampino airport; and its residents are subject to special regulations, including video-surveillance and entry checks.
In November last year, Italy's Consiglio di Stato, the top administrative court, ruled that the Berlusconi-era decree declaring a national emergency over the Roma issue was illegal. But in February, the current interim government of Mario Monti lodged an appeal against that decision. The move was attributed in part to the fact the government was already committed to paying at least €70m to complete contracts linked to the emergency program, which included the construction of camps such as La Barbuta.
The government's appeal and the decision to continue with the new camp raised deep concerns among human rights groups. In May, we joined Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Associazione 21 Iuglio and ASGI in calling on the government to abandon the emergency measures. In September, Nils Muižnieks, Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, added his voice to the stream of criticism of Italy's Roma policies coming from international institutions. That same month, the European Commission made contact with the Italian government, after calls from NGOs for it to open infringement proceedings against Italy for breaching European antidiscrimination rules.
Unfortunately, this increased scrutiny has yet to produce any concrete change in Italian policies, as shown in the latest briefing by the Open Society Justice Initiative to the European Commission. In the case of the La Barbuta camp, the court hearing the discrimination case (Il Tribunale di Roma) has already declined a request for an interim order stopping the transfer of more families to the camp. In September, another court in Rome rejected complaints filed by victims of forced evictions carried out under the emergency regulations; the plaintiffs included entire families who offered no alternative housing solution, (except the option of repatriation for Romanian Roma).
The new case against the city authorities of Rome, which begins hearings on November 9, provides the Italian courts with an opportunity to reinforce the currently contested ruling of the supreme administrative court against the Nomad Emergency. More broadly, it is time for Italy to live up to its pledge to the European Union, made earlier this year, to implement a national strategy for Roma integration. That should include ending the egregious discrimination of La Barbuta.