1,000 migrants a month arrive in Italian capital £20-a-week wages mean few are likely to go backTom Kington in Rome
Tuesday June 26, 2007
GuardianTourists gazing down from Rome's third-century BC Milvian bridge get a glimpse of an idyllic, tree-lined stretch of the Tiber winding its way into the heart of the city. But if they look closer, they can make out a cluster of well-hidden shacks on the river bank built by homeless Roma migrants - many from Romania, a new EU member.
Desperate families sleep under elevated roads that ring the capital, in suburban woods and even, in the case of 14 Romanians discovered by police last month, in a Roman cistern along the Appian Way.
Now, however, amid the surge in immigration - 1,000 Roma arrive from Romania every month - Italy's politicians are starting to take decisive, but controversial, action. Rome's mayor Walter Veltroni flew to Bucharest yesterday to urge the government to discourage its people from leaving in the first place. He has also announced the construction of four huge new camps in the suburbs of the Italian capital to house the arrivals.
"We need to contain the flow from Romania and part of that involves working with child welfare groups to improve conditions and convince parents to stay put," said a town hall official travelling with Mr Veltroni. The party will visit the mayors of three towns - Craiova, Calarasi and Turnu Severin - from where the majority of Rome's new arrivals hail.
There are now around 7,000 Romanian Roma in the Italian capital. "Of those only 1,500 are living in council-run facilities, the rest are in shacks or in the open," said town hall spokesman Enrico Serpieri.
Their presence has generated a succession of confrontations in Italy. An angry mob in Ascoli Piceno, near the Adriatic coast, torched a camp in April after a drunk-driving Roma youth killed four teenagers on a narrow road. Such scenes are yet to occur in Rome, but in May the regional president, Piero Marrazzo, was barracked by a crowd for being soft on immigration when he attended the funeral of Vanessa Russo, a girl from the gritty suburb of Borgata Fidene murdered by a Romanian prostitute during a row.
Livio Galos, an official from Romania's interior ministry who is liaising with the Italian police, said some Roma arrivals were involved in petty theft, although he played down hysterical Italian headlines about a wave of criminals taking Italy by storm. "Thanks to the Romanian education system a few have become expert credit card cloners, but the stories about circus acrobats becoming daredevil burglars is pure myth," he said.
While Mr Veltroni hopes his trip is a success, a Roma spokesman was dubious that many would want to return to Romania while available wages ranged from €20 to €40 (£13 to £27) a week.
Massimo Converso, a spokesman for Italian Roma group Opera Nomadi, said there was, however, an alternative to returning or entering the planned camps, which Mr Veltroni's opponents have likened to prison camps.
"We want to live in houses," he said. "So we are pushing the Italian government to hand over disused public buildings like stations and maintenance buildings along highways." Mr Converso said that after a pilot project saw Roma families move into old farmhouses near Venice he was now eyeing the many abandoned and semi-abandoned medieval hamlets that dot Italy, usually on isolated rocky outcrops.