Friday, June 5, 2009
From EveryOne Group:
Pesaro has broken up the local Roma community
The authorities gave the order to clear the abandoned factory where the roma were living and dispersed the families.
Nico Grancea’s grandfather Viktor survived Auschwitz yet refused the compensation offered by the Germans. Nico is considered one of the most important Roma activists in the European Union. He is about to start working with the EU institutions helping to monitor the situation of the Roma people in Italy. This is an account of what happened to their community in Pesaro. Today they are wandering around homeless, without shelter or any means of support.
Among them women and children, some of them sick and exposed to the harsh weather and racism. The only help they have received has been from a small group of activists.
EveryOne Group: “It was a terrible experience. One woman collapsed to the floor. Mothers and fathers in tears threatened to set fire to themselves if the authorities took their children from them. Our activists were not allowed to offer any humanitarian mediation and no assistance was offered the sick. The action by the police was totally unexpected, because the Mayor of Pesaro and authorities had officially promised to carry out an integration programme with jobs and housing.
At about 7 a.m. on the morning of February 25th in Pesaro, about 20 officers, (regular police and municipal police) entered the abandoned factory situated in Via Fermo, 49, where 30 Romanian Roma have been living for the last year. Among them patients being treated at San Salvatore Hospital for heart problems and tumours; many women and nine minors, including a few-month-old baby. The intention was to clear the factory and separate all the children from their parents. “We rushed to the factory and witnessed a heart-rending sight”, say the EveryOne activists. Mothers and fathers in tears, the children terrified. The police officers had announced that the children would be put in the care of the social services and taken to an institute. Only the mothers would be allowed to stay with them, the men would be thrown out into the street”. Nico Grancea, one of the most well-known international Roma activists is a member of this “nomad” community living in Pesaro. “The police told us the owner of the factory had reported our occupation of the premises.
However, they knew that the Mayor of Pesaro and all the local authorities were well aware of our presence in the building we had taken refuge in after fleeing from poverty and racism in Romania. Many of the people involved in the clearance are under the protection of the European Parliament as they have been subjected to attacks, beatings, and intimidation in Italy in the past - both from members of the police force and groups of racists”. The authorities, though, did not listen to reason, in spite of Roberto Malini and Dario Picciau from EveryOne explaining how delicate the situation was, seeing the community are witnesses for the European Union to the camp clearances being carried out throughout Italy. “Our group had obtained a formal commitment from the Pesaro local authorities promising a housing-employment programme”, say the activists.
The programme was supposed to have begun in early September 2008, but it has been kept on being postponed. ‘Il Messaggero’ and other local newspapers published the statements issued by the mayor and some councillors concerning the commitment taken up by the local authorities”. EveryOne had already supplied the social services and local authorities with the full names and details of the Roma community. The local San Salvatore Hospital, after hearing about the presence of children, pregnant women and seriously ill persons in the community, initiated a health and assistance programme for the families. Still awaiting the integration programme, exhausted from poverty and the hardships of winter, the Roma community now finds itself facing another humanitarian tragedy against which the EU Commission, CERD and the international organizations for Roma rights are fighting: the removal of minors from their parents by local authorities.
“Roma families consider the family unit their whole reason for living,” explain the experts from EveryOne, “and in many cases separation from their loved ones can lead the adults to attempt suicide. In the years of the Holocaust, the Nazis were aware of this aspect of Roma culture. In fact in Auschwitz, unlike for Jewish families, the “gypsy” families were kept all together in the “Zigeunerlager”.
When fathers, mothers and children are separated it leads to situations of great suffering and uncontrolled panic. During the police operation, a young woman threw herself to the ground, others shouted desperately, while one mother hid a kitchen knife in the folds of her skirt and murmured that she would slit her own throat if she was separated from her husband. In spite of the police cordon, we were able to communicate with the Roma community and prevent the worst happening”. Free movement and communication with the activists was not even granted to Nico Grancea, the young activist and protagonist of many actions in defence of the persecuted Roma, a witness and consultant for the European Parliament and international human rights organizations.
“My wife was holding our four-month-old baby,” Nico told us, “while the other mothers were terrified at what might happen. The police officers would not listen to us, they didn’t see families standing before them, just a job to be over and done with as quickly as possible. They are unaware of the Roma people’s spirit of sacrifice. They don’t know that many of us were very close to carrying out acts of irreparable self-harm. Some were considering setting fire to themselves if the authorities had split their families up.
They would not have separated us, we would have protested by sacrificing our own lives. My friends from EveryOne understood perfectly how serious the situation was and they helped us with their past experiences of dramatic situations. The police officers, however, refused to acknowledge their role as official mediators working on behalf of the European Parliament”. Fortunately the Roma mothers got together and made a courageous escape with their young children.
“I have been studying the Holocaust and the dynamics of the persecutions for the last thirty years”, says Roberto Malini, “I have published books and held conferences on the subject. It is undeniable that there are precise similarities between the years of the racist laws and the present. The flight of the Roma mothers in Pesaro reminded me of the famous operation carried out by the Westerweel Group in Holland, led by Mirjam Pinkhof – a dear friend of mine and survivor of the Holocaust – and other activists who saved the lives of countless Jewish children”.
Some members of the EU Commission and Parliament, who are in contact with EveryOne, followed the events taking place in Pesaro with trepidation. “While all this was happening, we were constantly in touch with a number of Italian MPs and senators, as well as the Pesaro and Urbino Public Prosecutor’s Office”, says Matteo Pegoraro. “We all feared the police operation would end in tragedy. Malini, Picciau and Grancea, however, have a lot of experience and it is not the first time EveryOne has found itself in these difficult and delicate situations. However, now the operation is over, it is necessary for those involved in politics to take a stand, and some MPs from the Radical Party have confirmed their intention of bringing up a parliamentary question on the episode”.
“I don’t understand why the authorities did not contact us before carrying out such an operation” Dario Picciau says. “While all this was taking place I was on the phone to Viktoria Mohacsi, the Euro MP, while the principal European NGOs were about to organize a task force in support of the Roma community. We cannot criticise the police officers, who were only obeying orders. They did not take into account, because it was not part of their job, the vulnerability of the families, as well as their precarious health, and their great fear, the result of many episodes of racism. However, we are unable to understand the reason for sending 20 armed officers with patrol cars and a police van to the factory, instead of trying to solve the problem around a table with politicians, local authorities and activists present. Viktoria Mohacsi, other Euro MPs and some of the leading experts in Roma life and culture were ready and willing to take part in a round-table conference”.
On Sunday 22nd February, Canale 5 sent a film crew (led by the journalist Mimmo Lombezzi) to the abandoned factory in Via Fermo to do a piece on the conditions of the Roma people in Italy - which should have been shown on Tuesday February 24th. Grancea and several Roma had spoken before the cameras about the persecution they are forced to undergo every day; the attitude of the police force towards them; the segregation they are kept in; and the actions of the “ethnic cleansing patrols” who are using violence towards the Roma exploiting the present climate of intolerance. One man had shown the Canale 5 cameras the bruises still visible on his body after he was beaten up in Ancona on February 15th, when xenophobic violence broke out in Italy following the brutal rape of a young girl in Caffarella Park in Rome the previous day.
A dossier on the episode has been sent to the European Parliament; the EU Commission and Council; the International Criminal Court of the Hague; CERD (the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination); and the Legal Office of the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) concerning the serious damage the lack of assistance and failure to carry out the integration programme promised by the Pesaro authorities has had on the Roma community.
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Posted by Morgan at 3:36 PM