Friday, November 16, 2007

ROMANIA: Murder Brings Fear to Italy

By Claudia Ciobanu

BUCHAREST, Nov 15 (IPS) - The murder of Italian Giovanna Reggiani by Romanian Nicolae Mailat has led the Italian government to pass a law allowing for expulsion of European Union (EU) citizens considered a threat to public security.

In the first three days after the decree was passed Nov. 1, 39 Romanians from seven Italian towns were expelled.

Concern about criminal acts committed by Romanians has been growing in Italy. But the murder of 47-year-old Giovanna Oct. 30 moved Italian officials to take drastic measures. She was robbed, beaten, raped, and then killed on a lonely road in Tor di Quinto, a shanty town on the outskirts of Rome inhabited mostly by Roma.

Nicolae Mailat, a Roma from Romania, was arrested for the crime. Authorities in Rome also tore down the barracks at Tor di Quinto.

Criminality among Romanians is the highest among all migrant groups in Italy. According to Rome Prefect Carlo Mosca, of about 8,000 foreigners arrested in the Italian capital between January and September 2007 this year 4,700 were Romanian.

Given linguistic and cultural similarities, Italy is one of the main destinations for Romanians looking for work abroad. Official data places the number of Romanians working in Italy at half a million, but the independent group Open Society Foundation Romania puts the number at about a million.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has said that "Italian authorities will not resort to mass expulsions." Following a meeting with Romanian counterpart Calin Popescu-Tariceanu in Rome Nov. 7, Prodi said that "our aim is to guarantee the safety of both Romanians and Italians, and to ensure freedom of movement of people, one of the fundamental freedoms on which the EU is built."

But the order passed by the government speaks a different language. "Free movement of labour is a fundamental right of European citizens, and applying this principle should not be mixed with dealing with criminality," says Peter Balazs, director of the Centre for EU Enlargement Studies in Budapest, Hungary.

"This decree of the Italian government does give the sense that two distinct categories, immigration and criminality, have been confused," Balazs told IPS.

Romanian officials have also been stressing the distinction between immigration and criminality. But they have spoken of differences by associating criminality with the Roma community, presented as distinct from other "honest" and "hard-working" Romanians. The Roma, often also referred to as Gypsies, are a people who migrated to Europe from India since the 14th century.

"I wonder whether we could buy a piece of land in the Egyptian desert and send them there," said Romanian minister for external affairs Adrian Cioroianu. He later denied he was referring to Roma, but the comment caused anger among Roma and Jewish organisations in Romania, who have officially accused him of discrimination.

Romanian politicians have spent considerable time discussing the criminality of Roma, but they barely mention the consistent marginalisation of these people, in Romania and elsewhere.

Nicolae Mailat, 24, comes from a poor family. As a child, he spent three years in a correction school after a theft. After his release from the centre, Mailat was arrested again for stealing.

"Conditions in correction schools in Romania can hardly lead to recuperation of these children," Emilia Ciocoiu, a social assistant working at one such centre in Rasnov, 160 km north of capital Bucharest, told IPS. "We are understaffed, and many of the personnel here are not professional. And we do not have enough material resources."

Mailat moved to Italy, but was not able to make a better life for himself. Mailat and his mother lived in Tor di Quinto off pickings from trash and from selling scrap iron.

Three weeks before the murder of Reggiani, Mailat, apparently unhappy with life in Italy, requested the Romanian consulate in Rome to be allowed to travel back to Romania. He was told that it would take at least a month to get a permit. The Association of Roma in Italy has been repeatedly complaining about inefficiency at the consulate.

In an interview to Romanian daily Cotidianul Nov. 11, Italian foreign minister Massimo D'Alema admitted that Italy does not yet have a solution for dealing with nomadic populations. "If this is difficult for Romania, which has longer experience of living together with the Roma, imagine what a delicate situation we are in."

The minister said it is not surprising that more illegal acts are committed by members "of a category that is socially and economically marginal."

Italian and Romanian politicians have agreed to work together to reduce criminality among Romanians in Italy. Prodi and Tariceanu have jointly asked for EU assistance. "The Europeans must do everything to prevent improvised action -- such as the Italian decree -- from being taken on crucial issues like this one," warns Balazs.

Some others are warning that the anti-crime fight should not target any particular group. "The Romanian state was cowardly and impotent in trying to place the blame for this incident on an ethnic group," said Madalin Voicu, a well-known musician and representative of Romas in Romania.

"This case is not about Mailat being a Gypsy. I want to believe that people are the same, and criminality is related to education, life conditions and behaviour, not the colour of the skin."

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