SEPARATED FROM EVERYTHING
As Yugoslavia dissolved, the formation of seven new countries created numerous challenges for Roma residing in the Balkans but even more so for those who lived elsewhere. Each new country installed its own citizenship laws, which left room for people to fall through the cracks. Those who were living outside of the former Yugoslavia at the time of its collapse lost their Yugoslav citizenship, without automatically receiving citizenship from the new state. Complicated bureaucratic procedures, unrealistic documentation requirements and unsympathetic consulates prevented many from receiving citizenship and made it almost impossible to receive documents or register the birth of their children. Rejected from their ancestral homes, many Roma took the limited documentation they had and turned to Italy in hopes of securing Italian residency and citizenship.
“We are three generations now in Italy. Born and grown up in Italy. It doesn’t make sense. How can we not belong here? There is no connection to Bosnia.”
For decades, stereotypes and prejudice have created an impenetrable wall that has alienated many Roma and kept them from belonging to Italy. This wall has been reinforced by policies that systematically deprived the community of rights and encouraged their segregation from Italian society. Municipal authorities in several cities across the country have made Roma ineligible for social housing. From Milan to Naples, Venice to Turin, Roma from the former Yugoslavia have lived in registered and unregistered settlements that are isolated and far from urban areas. In 2008, the Silvio Berlusconi administration issued the “Nomad Emergency Decree,” which set out to identify Roma and clamp down on any who were illegally residing in the country. It also set out to dismantle unauthorized camps and resettle thousands into new camps where they could be monitored. The actions only increased racism and discrimination toward the community. It also made securing documents as well as Italian citizenship even more critical, and for most would prove to be impossible.
Receiving a residence permit enables a foreigner to live and work legally in Italy. Yet many Roma, including those who were born on and have lived on Italian soil all of their lives, cannot satisfy many of the requirements, such as a registered residence, proof of lawful employment or certain other documents.
Unlike many countries throughout Europe, Italy has a procedure to determine and recognize a stateless person. However, those who lack a legal residence permit are rarely afforded the opportunity even to start the process. For those who do, being officially recognized as a stateless person in Italy is a battle that normally lasts years. This leaves the Roma trapped in a system in which the conditions of their daily life and the bureaucratic demands of the system intertwine to make them illegal residents in the only country they have ever known.