The day he died, Fikret Salkanovic was sixty-two years old with nine children and fifty grandchildren. He arrived in Rome from Bosnia in 1968, together with his father and brothers. They were the first family to live in Casilino 900, one of the largest nomad camps in Europe.
At that time, this land was occupied by immigrants coming from Southern Italy, especially from Sicily, Calabria and Naples. In the early eighties the Italians moved into public housing obtained from the municipality. The Salkanovic remained in their shack. In the following years, tens of other families coming from ex Yugoslavia: Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Montenegro, settled in the camp. In January 2010, about eight hundred people were living in the six acres of land in the camp with no paved roads, no sewage or water system, among shacks and caravans, chemical toilets and wooden stoves.
Today, Casilino 900 is a vast abandoned land. The clearing out started on January the 19th. Most houses have been destroyed and residents were moved out of town, transferred into four areas in the outskirts monitored by cameras and armed security guards. This operation is part of the “Nomad Plan 2010” approved by the City Council and the Prefect of Rome last July providing for the upgrading of five Roma camps, the movement of two and the clearing out of three others considered to be abusive. However, it doesn’t precise anything about the inhabitants’ fate.
“In Italy, first we clear out and then we decided where to transfer the homeless persons”, sustains Monica Rossi, social anthropologist specializing in Roma issues for many years. “In this case, the rejected people have been living in Italy for the past thirty years or more with families and children attending neighbouring schools”, she adds. “This is about highly integrated human beings, rooted in the urban fabric but to whom no citizenship right is recognized.”
Local governments in Italy do little or nothing to deal with integration. After the empowerment of local authorities, forced evictions have become more frequent.
“In 1996 the Mayor Rutelli established that Rome could host six thousand Roma people maximum”, continues Rossi. “All others had to be transferred in prepared camps in the city’s outskirts. But the same idea of a ‘nomads’ plan’ is a pure institutional abstraction. The Sinti(*) are the only nomads in Rome who have been waiting to obtain a place where to stay for years. The Roma people of Casilino were everything but nomads: before emigrating, plenty of them used to work in factories or in the City of Sarajevo. The regional laws of the 1980’s are based on an incorrect concept of nomadism and helped reinforce the segregationist approach that this Country has against them”.
According to the data diffused by the City Council, there are currently 7177 Roma people living in camps but unofficial estimates refer to approximately 15 thousand persons. The Nomads Plan provides for the movement of six thousand of them in thirteen “villages” equipped with water, electricity and gas and adequate security guards. The seven authorized camps will be enlarged, three of the fourteen “tolerated” will be rehabilitated and two “transit facilities” will be constructed outside the City’s perimeter.
Most of the families chucked out from Casilino 900 lived there for the past forty years. Others have arrived in the 1990’s escaping the war in the Balkans. They considered Rome to be their city and they had created affective bonds with the area’s inhabitants. Now most of them are afraid to reface the hardships of difficult integration in a new context. Infants and school children will be the first to be affected by this uprooting as they are forced to change friends and teachers. The problems that the Roma population faces to manage to integrate in the school context, the resistance from peers and teachers are very deep and often quite difficult to overcome.
This policy based on the ethnic segregation of Roma communities, rejected out of the urban context, increases social marginalization, thus risking to nurture deviance and delinquency phenomena.
But the Roma people issue is also linked to major economic interests and complex games of power. Cristina Artoni tackles the question of the Roma business with Lorenzo Romito, founder of the Stalker Laboratory for Urban Art for the requalification of areas of urban fringe and urban void in the documentary entitled “Sognare Casilino 900” (Dreaming Casilino 900).
"There are a lot of Roma businesses," explains Romito in the interview. "There are those related to containers, to chemical baths. Now, a new turnover related to video surveillance has been introduced. The first investment resulting from the Nomads Plan was that of cameras and private security guards.”
Neighbourhood committees hoped that a park would replace the camp after its clearing out. But it is more likely that the land will end up in the hands of the enormous turnover of the Roman building trade speculation. “Rome is a city that lives on rents and land speculation”, resumes Romito. “A clearing out very often takes place when there’s a speculation demand. Sometimes they manage to depreciate the land and sometimes they mange to upgrade it. Sometimes they use legal means to urbanise areas that cannot be urbanised.”
The policy implemented by the municipality of Rome has been harshly criticised by Amnesty International which has launched a campaign of national mobilization to demand the suspension of the “Nomads Plan” and to review its implementation. The Association claim that all Roma living in camps where the demolition is scheduled should be informed and consulted in advance and that they should be guaranteed the right to adequate housing.
According to Amnesty International, the current “Nomads Plan” does not respect Italy’s duties to guarantee that no discrimination and no segregation in terms of lodging should take place against specific groups. During the press conference of the international campaign against the violation of Roma people’s human rights, held in Rome on the 11th March, the major shortcomings of the project launched by the Municipality were analysed by Ignavio Jovtis, representative of Amnesty International and expert on Italian issues.
“Many Rom live in shacks and caravans that are deprived of basic hygienic conditions”, denounces Jovtis. “The current situation is the result of years of lack of attention, inadequate policies and discrimination carried out by successive administrations. The attempt to address this legacy is appreciated in itself [...] however, the plan is incomplete and could make the situation worse for many Roma people. This is the wrong answer”.
Translated into English by Elizabeth Grech
(*) Sinti or Sinta or Sinte (sing. masc.
; sing. fem.
) is the name of a Romani or "gypsy" population in Europe. Traditionally nomadic, today only a small percentage of the group remains unsettled. In earlier times, they frequently lived on the outskirts of communities, generally in squalor.