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News 11 May 17

Rome Arson Deaths Expose Plight of Balkan Roma

A horrifying arson attack in Rome that took the lives of three Roma girls - assumed to be of Balkan origin - has highlighted the community's grim position in Italy. 

Ana Maria Touma, Die Morina
Bucharest, Pristina
Roma living on the outskirts of Rome are often targeted in arson attacks, Roma rights advocates say. Photo: Hans Dibkelberg.Flikr. 

Romania’s Interior Ministry on Thursday denied that three Roma sisters - burned alive on Wednesday in a horrific incident when their camper in Rome was set on fire as they slept, were from Romania.

The Italian press agency AGI, had said that the three girls, aged four, eight and 20, were of Romanian origin.

But Romania's security attaché in Rome said the victims were believed to be from Kosovo. Several media outlets in Italy have said the Halilovic family came from Bosnia.

Whatever their country of origin, the news has alarmed the Romanian community in Italy who fear they may also be targeted by a new wave of hate crimes.

In 2008, after a Romanian named Romulus Mailat was convicted of raping and killing an Italian, Giovanna Reggiani, gangs roamed the streets beating up assumed Romanians.

The Italian Interior Ministry then expelled many Romanians under an anti-immigration decree adopted following the murder.

An Italian deputy, Luigi di Maio, from the Eurosceptic Five Star Movement, rekindled anti-Romanian sentiment in April when he claimed in a Facebook post that “Italy has imported 40 per cent of Romania’s criminals”.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether the Rome arson attack was a xenophobic act or someone settling a personal score.

Italian news agencies said prosecutors had opened an arson investigation after family members reported having received threats in recent days from locals. Another camper was torched last week nearby.

Italian prosecutors believe the attack was likely a vendetta conducted within Rome's large Gypsy community rather than an anti-Roma act carried out by local residents. However, police are not excluding any lines of inquiry.

Italy’s President, Sergio Mattarella, condemned the attack and called for the perpetrators to be punished, while Pope Francis sent his chaplain to comfort the family.

The pro-Roma group Associazione 21 Luglio, which tries to tackle discrimination and violence against Roma and Sinti in Italy - including repeated cases of locals attacking camps with Molotov cocktails - expressed "pain" at the deaths.

The right group Amnesty International said the Roma community in Italy, regardless of its members' origins, experiences discrimination, regular hate crimes and forced evictions and, it has asked the European Commission to put pressure on the Italian government to stop such violations of basic human rights. 

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