The immigration policy of the Italian right seems to be adopting a clear anti-European dimension. Roberto Maroni recently stated that the Italian state reserves the right to carry out mass expulsions and that illegal immigration is to officially become a criminal offense.
These remarks have aroused the ire of the Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega of Spain who has accused the Italian government of setting up an immigration policy that spurns any regard for basic human rights. This inter-EU spat demonstrates that Europe is once again facing problems caused by the lack of a cohesive immigration policy.
Roma are a people who suffer from intolerance and exclusion in many European countries
The attacks of the Italian government upon immigrants were particularly focused on the Romanian diaspora, generally associated with the Roma community.
Additionally, Italy has borne witness in recent day to episodes of extremist violence typified by the hunting of Romanians by self-deputized citizens’ militias and acts of arson in Gypsies’ refugee camps. These have indeed increased with the announcement by the government of its intention to toughen its policy vis-à-vis immigrants within the Italian territory. Official statements issued by the Italian government have indicated that expulsions and an increase in police controls will be the main tools of this new agenda. In Italy, Romanians are offended by those who consider them responsible for the many problems facing the country. The Romanians are also indiscriminately associated with Roma in many public official speeches. All Romanians, however, are not Roma. Unfortunately, the current government does not seem to perceive this difference.
The difference, however, could not be more important the on-going illegal immigrant debate. Romanians, who represent the largest immigrant community in Italy, come from a Member State of the European Union (EU) and are therefore subject to the same rules of mobility as all other EU nationals. Italy, therefore, has no reason to assign a specific treatment to Romanians. The Roma issue is, however, another story altogether. Roma living in Italy come partly from Romania, but mostly from the Balkans at-large. This includes Bosnia, Albania and Serbia - countries that they had to abandon in particular during the times of war in the bygone era of Yugoslavia.
In addition, Roma are not specifically an Italian reality. Indeed, the Roma issue cannot be treated in terms of immigration, since this people is originally nomadic. The question is therefore that of the integration of Roma within the EU. Roma comprise a community that does not follow the traditional pattern of national communities (the national territory has no meaning for them) and that is precisely what has proven to be so problematic for European nation-states such as Italy. That is also why the creation of a gypsy state - as proposed by the extreme right of Europe – is out of the question. Only a European policy of Roma integration and a fight against discrimination can serve as an appropriate response to the deplorable situation faced by Roma today.
Owing particularly to the explosion of violence in Italy against Roma, on Tuesday, May 20, the European deputies debated the issue of the integration of Roma during the plenary of the European Parliament. The situation of Roma is dramatic across all of Europe, where this community is indeed excluded from society. Roma are ’parked’ into camps where any form of human dignity has disappeared. Roma, still associated with old stereotypes, feed the most terrifying ghosts of society. As they are denied any integration because of the refusal of accepting their specificity and their history, Roma are treated like pariahs in Europe. Finally, the instrumental nature of feeding the public’s perception of the so-called ’Roma danger’ nourishes many populist policies and allows politicians to deflect blame for the nation’s ills onto this issue of Roma.
A true European integration policy is now necessary
It is of fundamental importance - as demanded by the European Parliament - to conduct an effective European policy of Roma integration. On the social front, we must immediately look after the health conditions of Roma and remove the slums where Roma communities are packed and relocate them in areas hygienically compliant. We must also increase information to communities, so that an equal chance for education is within reach of Roma children. Furthermore, it is essential to fight against discrimination of Roma. Above all, Member States and the EU must carry out cultural initiatives that target national populations aimed at fighting the existing prejudices against Roma. This is also the fundamental premise of a genuine policy of integration of Roma. Tolerance must concretely become a cornerstone value of the European Union.
Roma have contributed and still contribute to shaping a European identity. It can be argued that they alone represent this ideal of a Europe that is no longer burdened by national attachments. The intolerance that Roma are still experiencing today should not be underestimated, as that same intolerance, in the past, led to the greatest human catastrophe ever experienced by Europe.
That is why we, Europeans, must commit ourselves to stopping the wave of resentment against Roma communities and to conduct a real policy of Roma integration at the European level.