A Roma Camp in the Italian capital was cleared – authorities swept the camp and flattened the makeshift homes, evicting some 450 people, around half of them children.
Authorities said the clearance was routine, according to the Reuters news agency.
“While I was sleeping with my children and my wife this morning, the police knocked at my door. They woke me up, to get us out of the container that belongs to the city,” Zarko Hadzovic, a 44-year-old resident, told Reuters.
“They offered me a shelter to go to, without my wife and without my children. I said I do not accept it.”
Earlier this month, Matteo Salvini, the country’s new far right interior minister and co-deputy prime minister, called for a census to register Roma and the expulsion of those who do not carry Italian citizenship.
“Irregular (undocumented) foreigners will be deported via agreements with other countries, but Italian Roma, unfortunately, you have to keep at home,” Salvini, who heads the far right League (also known as Northern League) party, told Italian television at the time.
Salvini also called for camps to be “bulldozed” and accused Roma communities of fostering crime, according to the English-language Local news site.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Jonathan Lee, a communications officer at the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), said the evictions in Rome last week “only made it to the spotlight because of Salvini’s recent comments”.
Explaining that Italian authorities have been “evicting Roma for several years,” he told Al Jazeera. “If this is something that will be a prelude to increased evictions, we’ll be looking at that.”
According to Lee, “these events do not happen in a bubble, there has been a steady level of racist speech and violence against Roma in Italy for a number of years.”
Estimates put the number of Roma in Italy between 130,000 and 170,000, with around half of them holding Italian citizenship.
According to the ERRC, many Roma live in ethnically segregated camps on the outskirts of cities and towns across the country and lack access to basic municipal services.