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Italy should better respect the human rights of Roma and migrants

Strasbourg, 07/09/11  – “The situation of Roma and Sinti in Italy remains a matter of serious concern - a shift in focus is needed from coercive measures such as forcible evictions and expulsions to social inclusion, anti-discrimination and combating anti-Gypsyism” said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, releasing today the report on his visit to Italy carried out on 26-27 May 2011 during which he discussed the situation of the Roma minority as well as of migrants from Northern Africa.

The Commissioner is concerned about racist and xenophobic political discourse against Roma and Sinti. Effective measures to counter this phenomenon are needed, including self-regulatory initiatives by political parties and a vigorous implementation of the criminal law provisions against racist offences. He further stresses the need to promote knowledge of Roma history and culture in order to combat anti-Gypsyism, for instance through the dissemination and use of the Council of Europe’s Fact Sheets on Roma History.

Recent evictions of Roma and Sinti, sometimes in violation of human rights standards, have had a negative impact on the enjoyment not only of the right to housing, but also other human rights, including children’s right to education. “The Italian authorities should act in accordance with international and Council of Europe standards in the field of housing and evictions, and bring the situation fully into line with the revised European Social Charter.”

Cases of anti-Roma violence, sometimes perpetrated by law enforcement officials, point to a continuing need for the Italian authorities to improve their response to racially-motivated violence in general. “It is necessary to improve the handling of racist offences and to combat racially-motivated misconduct by the police. In particular, the system for monitoring racist incidents and offences should be made more flexible and victim-friendly.”

The Commissioner reiterates his recommendation that the Italian authorities address the situation of the many stateless Roma who came to Italy from the former Yugoslavia decades ago and their descendants, whose number is currently estimated at around 15 000. He calls for a national strategy for the social inclusion of Roma and Sinti in Italy which would support the efforts of regional and local actors in this field, and suggests as an interim step the establishment of a task force at national level which would provide such support.

“Increasing arrivals from Northern Africa have also exposed a dire need for Italy and Europe to do more to ensure that the rights of migrants, including asylum seekers, are respected: first and foremost when it comes to their rescue at sea, but also their reception, integration and a number of legal procedures”, the Commissioner stated.

"It is crucial that in all cases where migrants are in distress at sea, their rescue and safety enjoy absolute priority over all other considerations, including any lack of clarity and agreement, notably between Italy and Malta, about responsibilities for rescue”, he stressed. The Commissioner also urges the Italian authorities to avoid any practices which may result in migrants being sent to places where they are at risk of ill treatment or onward refoulement.

Reception conditions and access to asylum should also be improved, notably by extending the capacity of the housing schemes administered by the publicly-funded network of local authorities and non-profit organisations, SPRAR. In all places where they are accommodated, asylum seekers should have adequate access to legal aid and psycho-social assistance. With reference to the repatriation of Tunisian nationals through “simplified procedures”, the Commissioner calls on the Italian authorities to ensure that the relevant human rights safeguards, including access to procedures to challenge removal, and the prohibition of collective expulsions, are fully respected.

Finally, the Commissioner recommends improving the integration in Italian society of refugees and beneficiaries of international protection. “Strengthening local authorities’ capacity to provide accommodation and services is fundamental. It is also necessary to simplify access by refugees to Italian nationality and speed up the procedure to obtain family reunification”.

The response of the Italian authorities is appended to the Commissioner’s report.

Read the report

Press contact in the Commissioner’s Office:
Stefano Montanari, +33 (0)6 61 14 70 37;   

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