The controversial eviction of a camping near Rome has once again brought attention to the Roma presence in Italy, which remains small in proportion to many European countries but is nevertheless the target of intense discrimination.
Recent remarks from Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini, and the recent, controversial eviction of Camping River in Rome, have drawn attention once again to the situation for Roma in Italy. And again, the issue is being used to mobilise anti-European sentiment: Salvini has scoffed at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), accusing it of do-goodism and of “blocking the restoration of legality”.
On July 24th the Court in fact adopted an emergency provision to stop the eviction of the Roma camp on the outskirts of Rome, a measure justified by concerns that the eviction could cause irreparable damage. Nevertheless, the eviction was performed on July 26th, forcing the 300 people in the camp to find emergency shelter. Thus, housing conditions and the policies which aim to find alternative solutions have returned to the centre of the debate.
The attitude of the Italian government has many analogues in Europe: recall the pre-electoral declarations of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban , or the condemnation of ex Romanian president Traian Băsescu’s remarks, and France’s policies during the Sarkozy government .
Nevertheless, the rhetoric of the new interior minister, who called for an ethnic census of Roma in Italy shortly after his nomination, has termed the issue an “open goal”, because according to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center , Italy is clearly the country where Roma are viewed in the worst light.
The largest ethnic minority in Europe
How many Roma are in Europe? With a population estimated at around 6 million, Roma are the largest ethnic minority in Europe . According to the European Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), the lack of reliable data on the presence and housing situation of Roma in European countries seriously hampers the formulation of public policies. Some estimates are nevertheless available, and show that in Italy and France , countries where expulsion and eviction have been controversial topics, the percentage of Roma among the total population is a lot lower than other European countries (0.25 percent and 0.6 percent respectively for Italy and France).