Roma Children Perish in Italy

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 The parents and 18-year-old sister of Raul, Fernando, Sebastian and Patrick, the four Roma children burnt alive in the fire on February 6th, in Rome (the cause of which has still to be established) have been accused of "abandonment of minors", a punishable offence under Article 591 of the Italian Penal Code. The prosecutor's office in Rome announced yesterday that they have opened a case against the victims’ family for the aforementioned offence.

"To accuse the children's parents and sister - who are already distraught over their death - of neglecting them” say Roberto Malini, Matteo Pegoraro and Dario Picciau, co-presidents of the humanitarian organization EveryOne Group, "would be a serious judicial contradiction. This form of persecution has been applied to Roma people several times before in Italy: we remember the emblematic case of the fire in Livorno, where the parents of four children who perished in the fire in the squatter camp (presumably caused by a petrol bomb - the racist group GAPE claimed responsibility for the attack) were imprisoned, prevented from attending their children's funeral, and forced to plea bargain in order to avoid a conviction that would have sent them to jail for several years.

This methodology, which we hope will not be applied to this family (which has already been torn apart by the loss of four well-loved children) would represent a subversion of the dynamics of a tragedy caused by social exclusion and racial discrimination" say the human rights defenders. "We must remember that in the early days of the Holocaust the Jews were starved, deprived of their property and work. Forced to beg, steal and send their children out to seek means of survival, the Jews were accused of being thieves, beggars, idle and neglectful of their children. Rumours that over time led to their extermination. Today we witness a similar persecution of the Roma people, and it is not only human rights defenders who say so, but also Holocaust survivors such as Piero Terracina, Nedo Fiano and Tamara Deuel, Jews who experienced for themselves the persecution and the denial of all fundamental rights.”

The Mayor of Rome, Mr. Gianni Alemanno, after hearing about the fire, gave the Roma community an ultimatum: either you accept the conditions imposed by the local authorities or "we may decide to take your children into custody", at the same time ruling out any possibility for the Roma to have access to public housing. "Taking children from their legitimate parents" say the representatives of EveryOne Group, "is nothing but the ‘final solution to the Roma question’, where Roma families who are persecuted suffer the further anguish of having their children taken from them. Such laws ignore the rights of children to grow up in their own family, aided by the institutions to counteract poverty and social exclusion".

EveryOne Group asks the Public Prosecutor of Rome not to condemn and pursue the parents and the sister of the four victims, and appeals to the Italian President, Mr. Giorgio Napolitano, to ensure that, after his commendable words suited to the occasion, the Roma family really is protected from further discrimination. "We ask Mrs. Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Mrs. Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission, to ensure that the Italian authorities and institutions do not press legal charges against the family of the four children, but instead protect and offer them concrete help, along with all the other Roma people living in unacceptable conditions of hardship in a civilized country. In Italy there have already been numerous cases of children being taken from Roma families due to poverty” conclude the co-presidents of EveryOne, "yet the real neglect is perpetrated by the Italian institutions, who carry out inhumane evictions, failing in their duty to supply assistance and protection in cases of severe hardship, both in terms of sanitation and safety.
We recall that only a few days ago in Florence, a Romanian Roma man forced to sleep in the open - among the indifference of the local authorities - died from cardiovascular complications from pre-existing pneumonia. The Italian Red Cross has long been proposing concrete and effective plans to the institutions for the protection and inclusion of Roma families. These programmes have been developed in cooperation with specialized organizations in this delicate social emergency: it is now time to implement them.”