Italy: Conditions for Roma Gypsies deteriorating, says NGO

There are 150,000 Roma Gypsies in Italy and they constitute 0.25 percent of the country's population.

Rome, 3 July (AKI) - An influential non-governmental organisation in Italy has criticised the Italian government's plan to fingerprint Roma Gypsies and has revealed the desperate situation in which they live.

The influential Catholic-inspired NGO, Comunita di Sant Egidio, condemned the plan by the government during a media conference in the Italian capital Rome on Thursday.

"One of the problems of the Roma Gypsies in Italy is that they have less than 60 years of life expectancy," said the spokesperson for the group, Mario Marazzitti.

"If Italians were hit with a plague, and a 'chunk' of their life, roughly 20 to 25 years was taken, it would be a catastrophe.

"It is ironic that in Italy, the world's most committed country against the death penalty, the Roma-Gypsy community have to suffer from a 'death penalty' that deprives them of 25 years of their life," he said.

Last month Italy's Interior Minister Roberto Maroni announced plans to fingerprint all Roma Gypsies, including children, living in camps, in order to compile a census report of the community.

He said that the move was needed not only to fight crime and identify illegal immigrants for expulsion, but also to improve the lives of those legally living in the makeshift, often unsanitary camps.

The fingerprinting of Roma-Gypsies in the capital Rome is scheduled to begin on Sunday.

The Comunita di Sant Egidio however considers the census a discriminatory measure against the community.

The NGO claims that if a census was required, all Roma-Gypsies in the country should participate in the census and not just those in the camps in three major cities, Milan, Rome and Naples.

"It should be enough just to show documents to the authorities, but instead they are being 'censused'," said the president of the Comunita di Sant Egidio, Marco Impagliazzo.

Moreover, the NGO said that under European Union law, only those over the age of six years old who are not EU nationals can be fingerprinted, and only if they require residency permits.

"This is a strongly discriminatory measure, because they are not given residency permits," said Impagliazzo, who also advocated a so-called humanitarian residency permit for those who arrived from the former Yugoslavia who do not have a "country" to be deported to.

Of the approximately 150,000 Roma-Gypsies in the country, 70,000 are Italian citizens, and many others come from European Union countries such as Romania, while others came from countries of the former Yugoslavia.

The NGO also criticised the fact that the Roma Gypsies are required to provide information about their religion and ethnicity in the census report.

"They are being discriminated against based on their religious and ethnic background," said Impagliazzo adding that this was inappropriate in Italy which is a G8 country.

Up to 40,000 Roma-Gypsies have migrated to Italy following the war in the Balkans in the 1990's. These Roma Gypsies are no longer recognised as citizens of the countries that make up the former Yugoslavia.

The Comunita di Sant Egidio says that some of them have been in Italy for 40 years, but due to Italy's tough citizenship laws and because they do not possess a valid document of identification, they are not eligible for a residency permit or citizenship.

If stopped by police authorities, the NGO said that they can be arrested and held for up to 60 days in temporary reception centres, where they await deportation.

Since they are not recognised as citizens of any country, they cannot be deported and are usually freed, where the process is then repeated over and over again.

Under Italy's latest security package and new EU immigration laws, an illegal immigrant can be held for up to 18 months in a temporary holding centre.