By Fernando Vasco Chironda, Campaign Coordinator, AI Italy
The Tor de’ Cenci camp on the outskirts of the Italian capital is not the sort of place you would want your children to grow up, and its residents are the first ones to admit it.
A pile of rubbish awaits you at the entrance and the houses are a haphazard collection of flimsy sheds, cold in winter and boiling hot in summer. Yet for more than 15 years, the camp has been home to more than 350 people of Roma ethnicity, mostly Bosnian and Macedonian nationals. And last week the camp made the local news not for its dire conditions, or for the plans to evict its residents, but for the concert it hosted to stop the planned eviction by local authorities.
The Municipality of Rome wants to close the camp and resettle inhabitants in a new, racially segregated camp near the city’s Ciampino airport. It has failed to set out a clear rationale for closing Tor de’ Cenci, and to comply with relevant safeguards while making its decision and choosing a resettlement site.
Last week Amnesty International and other NGOs’ activists joined Tor de’ Cenci residents in an event urging local authorities not to close the camp but instead improve housing conditions here.
The rally, named “Io non sgombero” (I don’t evict) was a celebration of music, culture and solidarity.
For the first time in the camp’s history, musicians and actors visited Tor de’ Cenci, and children played and sang as they watched the artists performing on stage.
The performers came to support the residents with a show devoted to them: a moment of solidarity during which, at least for one day, camp residents could feel part of Italian society.
The stage sat among rusty containers placed by local authorities more than ten years ago.
A cheer went up each time artists such as Moni Ovadia, Tetês de Bois, Militant A-Assalti Frontali, Ulderico Pesce, Dj Efrem from Borghetta Style and Ghetto Youth Spinaceto performed. The Roma group Cheja Celen showed traditional dances.
“Being supported by all these people makes us feel less alone in our fight against the eviction and the displacement,” Maryam, a young Roma woman from Macedonia told me.
“But I’m still fearful about our future and our children’s future.”
Many residents and visitors approached the Amnesty International stand to get information on the actions launched to stop this eviction, asking to be part of them. They even queued to sign our petition to Rome’s Mayor Gianni Alemanno.
Our initiative in Tor de’ Cenci ended at midnight, with Roma singing and dancing. At the end, many probably wished the evening would continue, maybe to forget, at least for few hours more, the menace of the eviction.
The camp’s residents face an uncertain future. The planned closure of Tor de’ Cenci and the construction of La Barbuta, where Tor de’ Cenci residents are supposed to move, are part of Rome’s “Nomad Plan’, created under a state of emergency declared by the Italian government in 2008.
Many Tor de’ Cenci inhabitants are worried about moving to La Barbuta.
It’s clear that the move will not solve the Roma housing problem. Nor will it improve their children’s education. Instead, it could trigger further discrimination and exclusion.
This eviction plan is part of the many “stopgap” measures planned by the authorities.
They are likely to worsen conditions for Roma people by increasing segregation.
Nevertheless, “Io non sgombero” has been a real moment of solidarity. Now we are asking the authorities in Rome to stop this unfair and damaging eviction plan.
If they listen to us, Maryam’s fears could finally be put to rest.
As Asan, another inhabitant of Tor de’ Cenci camp said:
“After all these years, our only hope is that they won’t evict us, because our and our children’s future remains here”.