Saturday, November 10, 2007

Roma seek Italy's good life in face of rising hostility

By Thomas Escritt in Avrig, Romania

Published: November 8 2007 02:00 | Last updated: November 8 2007 02:00

Of the nine children Elena Tincu brought into the world, two are dead, two are in a mental health institution and two are in foster care. One daughter was murdered by a jealous lover while her son drowned in a swimming accident.

Another, Romulus Mailat, is sitting in jail in Italy, the main suspect in a murder case that has sparked a wave of concern in Italy about huge numbers of Romanians living in the country. Like Ms Tincu and her son, many of them are ethnic Roma.

But Ms Tincu, who says she was forced to return to Romania after her son's arrest, wants to return to the country. "In Italy, we had a very good life," she says. "Anybody who went there came back with more money and could get a better house."

While Ms Tincu's partner and her son worked on building sites, she sat on the streets begging with her three-year-old daughter. "People were very merciful, and we never had any problems," the 45-year-old adds. In Rome, the family's money ran to paying for a generator to light their squat in an illegal shanty town, a luxury after her hard life in the village of her birth.

Ms Tincu's Romanian home, in an illegal settlement on the outskirts of the otherwise prosperous village of Avrig, a short drive from the booming tourist destination of Sibiu, is a shed of corrugated iron.

Cars heading down the mud track towards the settlement must wait for herds of grazing cows returning from pasture. There is nothing for her or her family in Romania, she insists. And the same must go for many of the Romanian Roma, 50,000 of whom, Italy's Catholic church estimates, have made their way to Italy.

Despite an increasingly hostile environment in Italy, which this week passed a law making it easier to deport EU citizens, many are undeterred. "When our bus crossed the border back into Romania earlier this week, there were two packed buses queuing to head back the other way," Ms Tincu says.

But the Romanian government has clearly been stung by the force of the antiimmigrant backlash in Italy. Anxious to rein in emigration, Calin Tariceanu, the country's prime minister, has announced a campaign to remind Romanians abroad of brightening prospects back home.

Adrian David, deputy mayor of Avrig, points out that Ms Tincu's family circumstances are unusually grim. "There are Roma families around here with 100 head of cattle," he says. Her neighbour in the settlement, Constantin Bloata, insists Roma such as him can succeed at home. "You can live perfectly well here," he says, pointing to his large house and livestock. "It is the people who fail to make money here who go abroad."

And local wages are on the up. Bucharest is in the midst of a construction boom, which has pushed wages in the sector up 50 per cent over the past year, according to Diwaker Singh, an Indian property developer active in the city. With as many as 2m Romanians working abroad, Romania's labour market is tight. "We are facing a labour shortage, since so many have left the country to work abroad," he says.

* The prime ministers of Italy and Romania yesterday made a joint appeal to the European Union to tackle the immigration crisis unfolding between their countries, particularly in dealing with the problems of the transient Roma, or Gypsy, communities.

Romano Prodi and Mr Tariceanu made the appeal in a letter to José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, following talks prompted by the murder of an Italian woman in Rome, allegedly by a Romanian immigrant from the Roma community.

No comments: