Giving Memory A Future
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Italy, the country of "nomad camps"

Poderaccio camp, Florence (Italy) © Lorenzo Monasta

  • In the past, "nomad camps" were places where Roma communities settled, but they were also the result of the Roma’s marginalisation by the Italian institutions. In some Italian cities, the local authorities chose to establish these camps as part of their Post-War housing policies.
  • Today in Italy, 40,000 Roma and Sinti people (one quarter of their total population in the country), live in these nomad camps.
  • Nomad camps stand good chances of turning into a suburban ghetto, extremely isolated from the civil life of ordinary Italian citizens, where their inhabitants live in awful social conditions.

Italy, the country of nomad camps

“The policy of nomad camps, Piasere explains, first appeared in around the mid-20th century following the arrival of Roma people from the former Yugoslavia. It was not a deliberate national policy, but a local policy that spread like a virus from cities in the North. From the 1980s, this policy was supported by some Italian regions in financial and legislative terms. Based on that policy and on those actions, Italy has become ‘the country of nomad camps’ [...]. After arriving in the ‘country of nomad camps’, many Roma people who had lived a settled life in Yugoslavia for centuries had to ‘re-gypsify themselves’ in the Western style. Short of becoming nomadic again, this meant living in camps without sewers, in caravans or in shanty towns. Not only were these Roma people thus forcibly made to correspond to the current stereotype of the ‘formerly nomadic and now urbanised Gypsy’, but they unwittingly fuelled, even modernised the cliché: to many contemporary Italians, Gypsies are by definition the inhabitants of dilapidated camps! Instead, the majority of these Roma people, who had never before lived in caravans or in ‘camps’, for which their language does not even have a word, hope that ‘o kampo’ will just be a transitional stage in their lives as refugees”. The Community of SaintEgidio goes on to observe: “The institutions reacted by looking for solutions designed for nomadic populations. Legislation passed in many Italian regions provided for the establishment of ‘camps’. But those camps were (in most cases) designed to be temporary and not permanent settlements. Furthermore, many municipalities granted (temporary) permits to establish ‘camps’, without the minimal facilities required by the law (running water, sewage system and power supplies). As a result, two or three generations of Roma people / Gypsies were born and raised in places that were not so different from garbage dumps, with all the human and social effects this created. The most glaring example I will cite are the 30-35,000 Roma who came from former Yugoslavia. The first group arrived in Italy in the 1960s-1970s from various areas of that country (the Rudaris and the Kanijarija from Serbia, the Kalderasa from Croatia, the Korakané from Bosnia and Montenegro). Then there was a second wave, which began arriving from Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s because of the war. Basically, the Roma people who arrived in Italy four decades ago lived and grew up in veritable rubbish dumps in the Italian cities: they were totally isolated from civil life and were excluded from any kind of positive relationship with the local administration. This has made for considerable disorientation, especially among the new generations, raised in the affluent context of Italian cities but deprived of any cultural or relational tools that might help them to deal with the society that surrounds them. One of the consequences of this condition was undoubtedly the spread of juvenile delinquency: in Italy by now we have two or three generations of Roma people who have grown.”

From “Rapporto conclusivo dell'indagine sulla condizione di Rom, Sinti e Caminanti in Italia”, Senate of the Italian Republic, 2011.

Further Reading

On Italy: the “country of camps” and the “people of garbage dumps.”