This is the claim made by Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini in reference to protests which took place in Torre Maura. But such settlements do exist in other parts of Europe. We checked.
On April 3, Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, commenting on protests held by a number of residents and far-right groups in Torre Maura (Rome) against the relocation of Roma people to a reception centre in the area, claimed among other things that: ”Roma camps do not exist anywhere else in Europe. I don’t see why they should exist in Italy”.
The claim is untrue. While there is no comprehensive map of Roma camps in Europe, various sources show that such camps are not unique to Italy.
Camps in Italy and the government’s intentions
As we’ll see below, Roma camps exist in many European countries. They are not unique to Italy. Nevertheless, according to the 2017 annual report by Associazione 21 luglio (a non-profit organisation focused on combating discrimination), “Italy is known in Europe as ‘the country of the camps’ as it has been the country most engaged in planning, creating and managing outdoor areas with the intention of segregating the Roma communities that live in Italy on [an] ethnic basis”.
According to the Associazione 21 luglio report, around 26 thousand people live in such camps, whether formal or informal, micro-settlements or reception centres.
Associazione 21 luglio has long demanded an end to this “perverse camp system”, and a guarantee of dignified accommodation for Roma people. This position is broadly shared by the European Parliament. For example, a motion from late 2017 highlighted the discrimination faced by Roma in housing policy, and the difficulties in accessing basic services experienced by those living in camps.
In fact, the government contract between Lega and M5S takes a similar line, aiming for the closure of Roma camps.
In the section of this contract dedicated to “nomadic camps”, we read that among the necessary actions is the “closure of all irregular nomadic camps”. “In any case”, the text continues, “we propose intervening to completely deal with the Roma camps in accordance with the law of the European Union”.
However, the first concrete action taken by Salvini provoked serious criticism from the opposition and various organisations. Salvini in fact proposed a “census” of Roma people, which was immediately criticised as a form of “ethnic registration”. Since then, until now, the theme had drifted from the centre of public debate, and the existing camps have still not been closed.
Now we need to look at the situation in the rest of Europe.
The Eurocities report
Eurocities is a network of major European cities, with members including mayors and municipal councillors. In 2017 they published a study which maps the situation of Roma people in European urban areas, working from a sample of 23 cities. For Italy, they looked at Reggio Emilia.
According to the report, in 52 percent of the sample cities Roma mostly live in private rented accommodation, in 30.5 percent of the cities they mostly live in public housing, and in 17.5 percent of the cities they mostly live in temporary settlements (mobile homes, camps or caravans).
Converting these percentages into numbers, we can see that the number of cities where Roma mostly live in camps or shanty towns is four. Given that only one Italian city is considered - Reggio Emilia - there are at least three non-Italian European cities where camps are the norm. Unfortunately, the report does not identify these cities, but there is still more evidence to consider in support of our conclusion.
- United Kingdom
There are many Roma camps in Britain, some authorised, others illegal. The county of Essex, for example, hosts 12 permanent legal camps and many illegal camps.
Using a restricted definition of “Roma camps”, and thereby excluding permanent camps which provide clean water, electricity, refuse collection, etc, we will focus only on illegal camps.
According to a BBC report from 2014, France has the “harshest policy in Europe towards Roma immigrants”. The report goes on to explain that “most [Roma immigrants] live in camps that are regularly demolished by police - and then rebuilt”.
- The rest of Europe
News reports in recent years inform us of Roma camps, legal or illegal, existing throughout Europe: from Finland to Denmark, where local authorities and the government express growing concern for the increase in illegal settlements on the outskirts of Copenhagen; and from Sweden to Ukraine, where neo-Nazi groups have recently targeted Roma camps, even causing a death and multiple injuries during an attack in Lviv.
It is not true that Roma camps are unique to Italy. Such camps exist in many other European countries: east and west, north and south, whether legal - and even provided with essential services - or illegal, and periodically demolished by police.
In summary, the presence of camps in Italy is not an exception in Europe. With that said, according to an organisation which works on these issues, the problem of inadequate housing is more widespread in Italy than elsewhere.
(Photo CC-BY 3.0/sebastiensecret)