By Matteo de Bellis, Europe Campaigner at Amnesty International
“We know we have to leave because of the construction works, but they should give us a place to go, not just leave us in the street.”
Giovanni speaks to me while standing in front of a line of shacks, grouped in an area as small as a seven-a-side football pitch.
Under the bright Milan sun, children run around, treating the camp in Milan’s via Sacile like a playground. But it isn’t.
Giovanni has been living in the unauthorized camp of via Sacile since March 2011. There are now around 50 families here, some 250-300 people, all of them ethnic Roma from Romania.
They have been living here for almost a year. There are no services provided by the authorities: no toilets, no water, no rubbish collection.
The inhabitants are using specific areas for toiletry, going every day to collect water from a fountain hundreds of metres away, paying a private company to collect the rubbish once a week.
Local NGOs, neighbours and Roma associations are also doing their part, by sending doctors to visit the camp, helping families to enrol their children in local schools, and collecting the adults’ CVs to help them find work.
Milan’s authorities are almost completely absent from via Sacile. Except, that is, for periodic visits by the local police, who have several times announced the imminent eviction of everyone living in the camp.
The area where the Roma families are living is needed for infrastructural works – a new motorway ramp and related drainage and sewage works.
Last December, the inhabitants moved most of their shacks a few metres away from their initial location, to allow work to go ahead in that area. At the time, local authorities considered that sufficient to avoid evicting the families amid the freezing winter conditions.
But now that the sun is shining and the construction work once again threatens to encroach on the camp, everyone fears a forced eviction may be imminent.
Some of via Sacile’s inhabitants used to live in the authorized camp of via Triboniano, which the authorities closed in April 2011.
Giovanni tells me his whole family was expelled from via Triboniano just before its closure, because his father and mother were staying with them without the proper authorization.
Amnesty International has documented expulsions of this sort, where the authorities were applying regulations that would later be declared illegal. In November 2011, a Council of State decision trashed the so-called “Nomad Emergency”, a state of emergency that violated the law and discriminated against Roma.
But Milanese and national authorities have still done nothing to help those who were affected. Instead, they seem set on going down the same road of forced evictions that has darkened the lives of hundreds of Milan’s Roma, and thousands elsewhere, for a few years.
People like Giovanni could now face yet another forced eviction.
A bulldozer parked just metres from the via Sacile camp is a reminder that the construction works will go ahead, bringing back what must be painful memories of previous forced evictions.
Shacks, mattresses, clothes, dolls and school notebooks were swept up and destroyed. And all this without the authorities properly consultating with the Roma community, giving advance notice, or offering adequate housing alternatives.
“This time, at least we hope they will give us five or 10 days notice”, says Bi, another young man who earns a living by loading and distributing fruit boxes downtown. “If they evict us without notice, I will also lose my job, because I would need to take the day off and I couldn’t explain why to my boss, as he doesn’t know I live in a camp”.
The Roma families at via Sacile only ask for advance notice and a place to stay, much less than what the authorities are obliged to provide for under international law.
They still hope Milan’s Mayor will do the right thing, and suspend the eviction until proper procedures have been followed, with adequate alternatives identified for all the families.
But every night, those families go to sleep in their shacks knowing it may be their last night there, and that the following morning the bulldozer may enter the camp.