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Italian Authorities Clear Out Roma Camp

Officials say living conditions in the Casilino 900 camp in Rome are disgraceful and residents must be moved

Italian authorities have begun to clean out one of Europe's largest camps of Roma. The Roma are commonly known as Gypsies but they trace their origins to South Asia. Officials say living conditions in the Casilino 900 camp in Rome are disgraceful and inhuman and residents must be moved to areas that are better equipped. But questions remain as to why the transfer is being carried out.

Cranes and bulldozers are in action at the Casilino 900 camp in Rome. They have begun to demolish the caravans and makeshift homes of the Roma who are being pressured to leave.

Italian authorities say the more than 600 Roma living here can not stay and must be evacuated by February. Officials say the living conditions are no longer tolerable.

"The camp must close because it is on an illegal area," Gianni Alemanno said. Alemanno is the mayor of Rome. "These camps must be in authorized areas where it is easier to guarantee better life and health conditions and ensure that people can live properly."

The Casilino 900 camp is one of the largest in Europe for Roma. It has existed for 40 years. Many of the Roma here say they are concerned about being moved elsewhere because they don't want to end up with other ethnic groups.

Human rights organizations fear the real reason behind the transfer is to identify and expel them.

An estimated seven to nine million Roma live in Europe.

"This is a minority that has changed significantly over the years. In the past it was a nomadic population that moved frequently. But in time it has stopped traveling," Paolo Ciani said. In Eastern countries it has become part of the population and urbanized the cities."

In Europe, only Hungary and Spain recognize Roma as a national minority.

But in Romania and Slovakia, where they represent 10 percent of the population, they are not recognized and have no rights, human rights activists say. They say Roma must be fully recognized as European citizens.