Italy testimony

“We always dream that our children will have a house to live in so they will not be called ‘gypsies’ any longer and will be treated like anyone else.”
Elpida Abaz

Ismet and Elpida Abaz
Ismet Abaz,aged 34, and Elpida, aged 33, are Macedonian Roma, who came to Italy in 1991. Both have residence permits. They have four children. Having lived in numerous camps, in 2000 they settled in Tor de Cenci, a “tolerated” camp in the south west of Rome; this was previously categorized as an “authorized” camp, until its recent administrative reclassification. For the last seven years, Ismet has worked as a driver for a schooling project for Roma children run by a local NGO. He has applied for social housing but has never had enough points to qualify.

Ismet says: “It is a shame that we are still living in a camp in these conditions. Our children are growing up and we do not want to continue living in such conditions. We arrived here in 2000… the police took us here after evicting us from the [old] Casilino 700 camp [in Rome].”

“Since then, I have always lived in this container… I tried to find a job in Viterbo, however there was not much work so I was going back and forward … I have also worked in Parma. I used to unload goods in a market. I got my first permanent job here, in Rome, working for this organization in the schooling project, but I only work three hours a day, so I cannot survive on this. I work where and when there is any work. I like working … I sell iron and I also work as a mechanic.”

Ismet does not earn enough to rent a flat and he does not qualify for social housing. “I applied to live in social housing five years ago but I did not have enough points,” he says. “We do not want our children to get ill because of the poor living conditions in the camp. All our children go to school. However… their classmates do not want to come here, and our children are embarrassed to invite them here… My oldest daughter says she is Brazilian because she is ashamed to admit she lives in this camp. Some people know where she lives and do not accept it.”

What will the “Nomad Plan” bring for Ismet and Elpida’s family? They have not been informed or consulted about it. Ismet has only heard rumours “that the government wants to move everyone into a bigger camp”. He is concerned that his family will be moved to a camp with other Roma who he will not get on with. “They will put us with another group of people we do not know. This is wrong.” He is adamant that, if this happens, he will not go, saying: “I prefer to go and sleep in the street.”

What would he really like? “I want a house and a job. I do not wish for anything else.”

Saltana Ahmetovich (Nino) is a 30-year-old Italian Roma. He was born in Italy and has lived all his life in camps. His parents, originally from Montenegro, arrived in the country in 1969 and have lived in Milan, Naples and, finally, Rome, where most of his family settled in 1979. Since 1996, Nino has lived in a caravan in La Monachina, a “tolerated” camp in the west of the city.

Nino looks back to his move to La Monachina camp in 1996. “We were in Battistini [a nearby camp] but we were at risk of being burnt alive; some people threw Molotov cocktails at us because they did not want us to be there as we were close to residential buildings. Police and fire brigades arrived and told us to join our relatives at La Monachina. Before that we lived in several camps in Milan and Naples … the police used to come and evict us because we were occupying public land, and then we were moved to another camp.”
“I now live in a caravan … but when we came to La Monachina we had nothing… myself, my brother-in-law and a friend constructed a house for my mother, my sister and my niece… Every three years we have to demolish it and build it again because it gets rotten.”

Nino has had a variety of jobs, but has struggled to find anything permanent. He is worried about his current situation. “My first work was in a church, cleaning… Then I left that job and started looking after an elderly person. But eventually the person I was looking after died… After that, I sold plants [and] iron. Between September 2008 and November 2009 I cleaned a park nearby. I got the job through a government sponsored employment programme. That’s ended. Now I sell iron but I am not getting enough money. How will I survive? What I am going to do?”

“I would like to rent a flat … but with what money? Who will give me the money to pay for it? … My mother applied for social housing but she has never been given [accommodation] because she never got enough points. I haven’t applied for social housing because it would be useless. If I say: ‘My name is Saltana Ahmetovich, I live in La Monachina,’ the municipality would never give a house to me. I have requested electricity, and they don’t even want to connect that … imagine a house!”

On being told about the “Nomad Plan”, and that La Monachina is not one of the “tolerated” camps that is scheduled for restructuring, Nino replies: “Why won’t this camp be restructured? We are Italian, I vote. I do not want to stay here any more. I want a house. I want a bath. I want heating … I am not asking for the moon.”