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Cracking Down: the Rom Problem, illegal Immigration, and Crime

Recently the news here in Italy has been carrying reports on what amounts to a crack down on the Rom or gypsies who occupy sites in most of the major cities around the peninsula.

If you’d like the know a little about the difference between Rom and Romanian, then click on the link to a post of mine on this subject. Another older post of mine entitled Not a Good Time to be a Romanian in Italy, also looks at related issues, and may give you some ideas as to what precipitated the current crack down. Actually, this crack down is part of yet another initiative designed to clamp down on illegal immigrants within Italy.

The police have been rounding up a few of the Rom, and a few other nationalities, and checking identification documents, which many don’t have, and a few have been sent back to their countries of origin. With regard to the Rom and other troublemakers from Romania, the Italian police have been collaborating with the Romanian authorities.

One leading churchman here has come out in support of what he views as the persecution of the Rom population.

The funny thing is that the Rom problem has been in existence in Italy for many years, as anyone who has read a Lonely Planet or similar travel guide to Italy will well know. Tales of newspaper waving groups of gypsy children distracting and then robbing tourists in Italy’s main cities are legion.

The question is why now? Why didn’t someone tackle the Rom situation years ago, before letting it get out of hand, and, as a result, making the problem much more difficult to solve?

Who knows. Years of indecisive, unstable, and ineffectual governments probably have not helped much. Then, I have heard that the Rom are protected by certain specific Italian laws. I’m not sure which, but I was told this by a private investigator I know. These laws make it difficult to do much apparently, although it has to be said that gypsy populations have never been all that keen on integrating into everyday society.

Now though, they are even going to set up an official post here in Milan to deal with what is rather dramatically referred to as the ‘Rom emergency’.

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To be honest, I’m not really sure the Rom problem is all that out of hand, its just that it has been around for so many years that people have finally become annoyed by it, and the absence of any attempts to reduce the problem. This, combined with a rising petty crime rate in Italy, has galvanized the authorities here into some action. The issue of petty crime was something which most of the candidates in Italy’s recent general elections focused on.

The illegal immigration problem is more recent, and, to be fair to the politicians, much more difficult to manage. I mean, just how do you monitor all of Italy’s coastline and boarders, all the time? Many of these immigrants come by small boat nowadays, and the vast majority are probably people who just wish to escape the squalor of life in their own countries. Some of these ‘boat people’ may also be criminals wanted in their own countries who come to Italy the escape the police and brutal punishment.

Others who make the risky boat trips are brought to Italy by criminal organisations and used in prostitution and drug dealing operations.

Does Italy really have a problem with crime? Well, in all honesty, not really. Compared to the US, murder rates are pretty low, and there is not the level of drink related crime which there is in the UK. However, incidents of petty crime do appear to be on the increase, and I have been a victim (lost bicycle and briefcase). Others I know have also been victims of pickpocketing and petty theft too. Indeed, I often seem to be hearing from or about someone who has lost his or her wallet/handbag.

Of course, there is the other level of crime in Italy – Italy’s world infamous, extremely well organised, profitable, and influential Mafia type groups. Although these organisations do commit crimes, and the crimes they perpetrate cause potentially greater damage to Italian society, the crimes do not, generally, affect Italians at a street level. Mafia gun battles can possibly excluded from this, but they are comparatively rare, and innocent bystanders almost never seem to be involved, if you don’t count close relations who happen to be with victims at the time of an attack.

Tackling Italy’s organised criminals is even more difficult than dealing with illegal immigration.

For Italians on the street though, petty crime levels are much more noticeable, hence the recent crack downs.

Will these initiatives make much difference? In the short term they may discourage some petty crime, in that many more police appear to be on the streets. Whereas in the long term it is doubtable whether much will change. Firstly because the roots of the problem are not being dealt with, and secondly because in Italy initiatives are always flaring up, and then fizzling away to nothing.

Maybe things will change after a year or two of Berlusconi government.

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