The United Nations human rights commissioner, in her first official visit to Italy, today raised concerns that the country’s authorities are treating Roma and migrants as security problems rather than looking at ways to include them in society.
“I have raised the issues of fundamental human rights, such as access to health care and education, especially for those Roma living in informal Roma settlements, and the excessive resort to repressive measures such as police surveillance and forced evictions,” said UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay following a visit to two Roma camps on the outskirts of Rome, and a nearby Identification and Expulsion Centre.
The High Commissioner also criticized what she called the “often extraordinarily negative portrayal of both migrants and Roma in some parts of the media.”
She noted that a survey of 5,684 television news stories linked immigration with a specific criminal activity or security issue nearly every time.
“I am a firm believer in freedom of speech – but vilification and deliberate negative stereotyping of any group of people is unacceptable and dangerous,” Ms. Pillay said.
She urged Italy’s politicians, media and public officials not only to avoid this type of rhetoric themselves, but also to publicly campaign against such behaviour by others.
“Turning a blind eye is not a solution – it simply compounds the problem,” she said.
The treatment of Roma was on Ms. Pillay’s agenda as she visited Italy on a two-day trip to see first-hand the situation of minorities, and of migrants and asylum-seekers.
She noted the policy of push-backs at sea, saying that while have not been recent examples of this practice, Italy has not officially revoked this policy.
The High Commissioner also spoke against provisions in Italy’s domestic policy which criminalize migration by making illegal entry and stay a criminal offence.
As a result of abuse of this policy, innocent women, children and men “are sometimes spending more time in detention that genuine convicted criminals.”
Ms. Pillay also noted that 10 years after discussions started about the establishment of a fully independent National Human Rights Institution in line with the industry standard known as the Paris Principles, one still has not been created.
On a positive note, Ms. Pillay praised Italy’s initiatives to abolish the death penalty and improve the situations of women and children.