Cablegate: Italy Begins Census of Roma Camps

DE RUEHRO #0865/01 1921602
O 101602Z JUL 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ROME 000865


E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/10/2018


REF: A. ROME 681

ROME 00000865 001.2 OF 003

Classified By: A/Pol M/C Gabriel Escobar, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).


1. (C) With a large majority in both houses of parliament and
a public united in feelings of insecurity in large cities, PM
Berlusconi's government has begun to crack down on illegal
immigration and crime. A plan to conduct a census of
residents of encampments, aimed at Italy's Roma population,
responds to widespread public sentiments that lawlessness and
crime in the camps has gone unchecked. Police have begun to
conduct surveys of camps in Naples and Milan, and will start
soon in Rome. Initial plans to fingerprint all residents
have been scaled back, and implementation has been uneven and
disorganized. Some Italian NGOs and EU bodies have voiced
concern over what they consider ethnic discrimination.

Security: A Winning Campaign Issue

2. (C/NF) PM Berlusconi's government has made fighting the
perception of insecurity a priority in its first months in
office (ref A). The center-right majority considers security
a bread-and-butter issue to which its base responds.
Security issues were a deciding factor in last April's
elections, which saw the ascendancy of the Northern League,
Berlusconi's populist and sometimes anti-immigrant partner in
government. Italians from across the political spectrum have
voiced support for the government's recent initiatives on
security issues and illegal immigration by wide margins, from
increasing penalties for drunk drivers to faster expulsions
of foreigners convicted of crimes (ref B).

3. (C/NF) Italy's relatively small Roma population (estimated
at 150,000) is made up of roughly three segments: Roma with
long-rooted historical ties to Italy, most of whom are
Italian citizens; Roma who have arrived in the last 40 years,
mainly from the former Yugoslavia; and Romanian Roma who have
immigrated relatively recently, and in significant numbers
since Romania's accession to the EU on January 1, 2007. The
recent influx of Romanians, and particularly Roma from
Romania, has fueled feelings by many Italians that the state
lacks control of its borders and tolerates illegality. The
brutal murder late last year of an Italian woman by a Roma
man of Romanian origin sparked national outrage and marked
the beginning of more intense scrutiny of this group (ref C).

Government Issues Orders on Encampments

4. (C/NF) As a response to the perceptions of illegality
emanating from Roma encampments, the government issued three
orders May 30 that declared a state of emergency to deal with
what the press has called Italy's ""nomad crisis."" The orders
delegate special powers to the prefects of Milan, Rome and
Naples and authorize them to conduct a census of both
authorized and illegal encampments. While the orders speak
only of ""encampments"" in a general sense, the measure is
aimed at Italy's Roma population. Poloff spoke with MoI
Diplomatic Adviser Marco Villani, who said a census of
residents of encampments will allow the government to
reestablish legality and protections for residents living on
the margins of society, and will permit the state to ensure
that living conditions meet minimum standards. The orders
authorize the collection of biometric data as part of the
census, and also call for the Italian Red Cross to accompany
the National Police during visits to camps. The orders
ultimately foresee the expulsion of individuals identified in
the census who lack the legal right to reside in Italy.

5. (U) In testimony before the Constitutional Affairs
Committee of the Chamber of Deputies on June 25, Interior
Minister Robert Maroni (Northern League) elaborated on the
census plan, and explained that police would collect
fingerprints of all camp residents, including children, to
satisfy the requirement for biometric data. The news that
Roma children would be fingerprinted generated considerable
criticism, particularly from the center left and the Catholic
Church, which continues to exercise significant influence on
political debate in Italy. Famiglia Cristiana, Italy's
largest circulation weekly, denounced the plan as ""a
violation of human dignity,"" and questioned why the
government did not devote its energy to fighting ""true
criminality in vast areas of the country.""

Prefects Begin Census Implementation

6. (C) Implementation of the census plan has varied, as each
prefect retains substantial discretion about how to proceed.
Census data collection began in Naples on July 4, where four
camps of largely Serb-national Roma are located. According
to the Community of Sant'Egidio, a lay Catholic NGO, the
initial forms used to collect personal data included fields
for religion and ethnicity, which is prohibited under Italian
and EU law. The MoI says it has revised the data collection
sheets to remove the inadmissible fields. Naples police have
opted not to fingerprint children under age 14.

7. (U) In Rome, census data collection has not yet begun, and
will commence on July 15 at the earliest. Rome prefect Carlo
Mosca has said police will ask camp residents for
identification documents, and that the law already authorizes
identification of undocumented individuals by other means,
including through fingerprinting. Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno
announced July 8 that no children would be fingerprinted. In
Rome, the census data will be used to provide camp residents
with an ID card that can be used to obtain health care and
access to schools.

8. (C) Initial surveys conducted in Milan, according to
Sant'Egidio, were of camps inhabited by Italian citizen Roma,
whose identification documents were photographed. No
fingerprints were collected in these camps.

MoI Says Census is Only First Step

9. (C/NF) Villani has said the census is the first step of a
larger plan that includes rehabilitating authorized camps and
moving residents of illegal encampments to authorized
locations; promoting education for children living in camps,
only 40% of whom currently attend school; ensuring adequate
access to health care; and enhancing security both for camp
residents and those in the surrounding areas. The MoI has
not announced details of any of these plans; Villani said a
census of residents was the necessary first step before other
plans could be worked out.

NGOs, EU Express Concern

10. (C) Human rights NGOs, including Sant'Egidio and Opera
Nomadi, the largest Italian NGO focused exclusively on Roma
and Sinti, expressed mixed opinions to us about the plan and
its implementation. They expressed general concerns about
the discriminatory nature of the census, and said that
despite referring only in vague terms to ""encampments,"" the
only targets of this survey, and in fact the only residents
of such camps, are Roma. Sant'Egidio said that lack of
forethought by the Interior Minister led to worrisome
situations such as the data forms used briefly in Naples.
However, they suggested that public and official reaction in
Italy and from Brussels succeeded in limiting the scope of
the census, and in particular the collection of fingerprints.
Opera Nomadi Director Massimo Converso suggested to poloff
that Roma in Italy face many significant challenges,
including societal discrimination in housing, employment and
education, and that the census was decidedly not at the top
of that list.

11. (U) EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot has questioned
whether the collection of fingerprints and other census data
constitutes discrimination under EU law, and said Italy's
focus should be on ""providing assistance to Roma, not
stigmatizing them."" The European Parliament passed a
resolution July 10 denouncing the census as an act of
discrimination on the basis of race and ethnic origin.


12. (C/NF) Thus far, the government has only begun collecting
information about camp inhabitants, which the MoI says will
be used to begin programs to promote integration, education,
health and employment. Critics, including domestic NGOs,
opposition parties and EU institutions, however, have raised
concerns that this may be the opening salvo in a campaign
intended to tighten the screws on Roma in Italy. Domestic
and EU pressure has already altered the program, and these
groups have given notice that they will continue to oppose
other aspects of the initiative. We will be carefully
watching the government's next steps to see in which
direction this effort is headed.

© Scoop Media

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