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African countries, Iran, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Albania.  This is partly due to the extensive underground economy which provides opportunities for clandestine, temporary jobs.  Unfortunately, immigrants, and especially Roma, sometimes become the targets of right-wing groups such as the Moviemento Politico neo-Nazi skinhead organisation, which is alleged to have led attacks on Roma in recent years. There are reports of many racist incidents against Gypsies throughout Italy despite the legal situation (see IRR, European Race Audit, 1995).

According to the Italian Constitution:  

All citizens are invested with equal social status and are equal before the law, without distinction as to sex, race, language, religion, political opinion and personal or social conditions.”

There is government legislation to protect against discrimination but according to commentators there is poor implementation of this in practice (see Forbes and Mead, 1992).  

Since 1973, the Italian government has issued circulars in order to protect the culture of Roma and to challenge prejudice.  With greater decentralisation in recent decades there have been some positive regional initiatives in relation to Roma, such as calls for respect for their cultural identity.  However, despite these developments, Italian Gypsies continue to experience widespread discrimination and marginalisation:  negative stereotypes are commonplace, lack of sites and bad living conditions, and problems associated with loss of cultural identity.

Another issue, probably not unique to Rome or Italy exposed unequal treatment of Gypsy girls.  This emerges from a study of the penal aspect of juvenile justice in Rome which showed that Gypsy girls tend to be dealt with more severely than girls from the majority population: “. . . half of them are sent for trial, compared with only 21.6 per cent of Italian girls: very few of them are accorded amnesty and no gypsy girl is dismissed on the grounds of immaturity”  (Cippollini, 1989).  The study shows the need for legal assistance to protect Roma/Gypsies/Travellers from abuses and unequal treatment.

The Netherlands

In the Netherlands a distinction is made between Travellers or caravan dwellers (Woonwagenbewoners) and Gypsies (Roma).  There are an estimated 20,000 of the former, considered as indigenous Dutch, and about 3,500 of the latter considered as from abroad (Hungary and the former Yugoslavia).  The Dutch government introduced a law on caravans in 1918, which made it necessary to have a license and specified certain conditions in order to occupy a caravan or houseboat.  This had some positive results because it put an end to expulsions by local authorities.  It was also the beginning of caravan camps, which tended to be located in isolated areas, which contributed to the stigmatisation of Travellers.

The next crucial phase was during the German occupation. The Germans issued new regulations and controls on ‘foreign’ caravan dwellers, which in effect had implications for all Travellers by restricting movement.  In 1944, 245 Dutch ‘Gypsies’ were deported to Auschwitz with the cooperation of the Dutch government (Willems, W. and Lucassen, L., 1990).  A new bill required the central registering of Travellers and legislation was enacted in relation to free movement.

After the war, Travellers regained their right to free movement until 1947 when a new state commission introduced a ban on travelling.  It was the beginning of large regional camps with basic facilities and special education for Traveller children.  In 1968 the Caravan Act was enacted with the stated objective of improving the social position of Travellers.  Critics allege that it had the opposite results, because of its assimilationist approach.

The history of Travellers in the Netherlands contains lots of evidence of discrimination and racism.  The notion of ‘difference’ was frequently equated with deviance and Travellers were mistrusted, viewed as criminals, seen as dirty and as social parasites.  Assimilation and modernisation policies contributed to a stigmatisation of Travellers so that they are at the bottom of the social ladder.  Travellers have also been subjected to special police surveillance, which makes them very suspicious of data-gathering by officials  (Cottaar, A, 1990).

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