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Home / Resources / News / Institutional Racism and Ethnic profiling in Italy

Institutional Racism and Ethnic profiling in Italy

Article by Flore Murard-Yovanovitch

According to the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), in 2009-10 Italy was the second country in Europe when it comes to the occurance rate of mistreatment, attacks and racially motivated acts of violence. Main victims were citizens of African descent, Roma and Sinti. The Enar Shadow Report, presented on March 21, 2012 to the European Parliament, is based on unofficial data from studies carried out by associations and NGOs dedicated to fighting discrimination. The report is still a core source of information regarding racist violence in Europe. It fills the gap that exists in data due to non-reporting and failure to conduct trials and to impose sentences in regard to acts of racial discrimination. This is not evidence of the limited extent of racism, but the result of a lack of awareness of its victims, and of difficulties involved in accessing the judiciary system.
 
In the case of Italy, it is interesting to note that the report dedicates a number of pages to politics, underlining that the overall “anti-migrant climate” cannot be separated from the violent “xenophobic rhetoric” by the State's highest Representatives. The anti-migrant climate does indeed need to be analyzed in the context of the political power of the Northern League, and of Law 94 of 17 July 2009, which criminalized irregular migration, as well as the increasing “local exclusion policies” introduced at a local level by municipal mayors. These measures, adopted by local authorities on the issues of housing, health services and family reunification, limit the immigrant’s fundamental rights and favour their exclusion. It separates de facto foreigners from the native component of the population. According to the report, “the 'security package' gave more power to the League-affiliated mayors on “urban security” to approve discriminatory measures against migrants in every field of social life”. Police operations aimed at controlling irregular migration are becoming fertile ground for discretionary and abusive behavior by the police force.

Police and hunting down illegal aliens
“Ethnic/racial profiling” is still not the subject of much study in Italy and there is a lack of data on the issue. ENAR's special report on ethnic profiling in Italy shows that the number of cases of discrimination in police operations reached very serious levels in 2009-10. Two striking cases have been widely covered by the media. Since September 2009, special corps of Milan’s municipal police has been conducting massive checks on buses only on non-Italians, with the result of irregular migrants being locked in “prison-buses” with grates on the windows. The “White Christmas” operation of Coccaglio: a night-time raid on December 25th in 400 homes of foreigners with the aim of verifying their residence permits and of “cleaning up the city” (in the Mayor's own words).

Both episodes, however, are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the racially motivated abuses in police operations happening daily. To mention a few examples… In Lombardy and in Veneto cities, some mayors have approved a local regulation regarding a “health-sanitation” requirement, specifically targeting the residences of foreigners, while in Montecchio Maggiore the city police raided 20 homes of migrants to flush out potential non-declared guests of the same nationality.

Repeated identity checks are the daily reality for those with “dark-skinned” faces, on the streets and in public transport. Several roundups have taken place on the Pisa-Follonica railway line, with trains being blocked and the selective arrests of Senegalese vendors. According to Arci, in addition to mistreating migrants, operations that use force disproportionately promote a negative image of migrants among the local population. In Verona, aggressive inspections at kebab shops and call centers were carried out by police corps several times per week causing major economic damage to their owners.

Yet in the case of intervention to defend or in favor of migrants, the police have been known to withhold support. In 2009, the association of south-east Asian migrants “Dhuumcatu” in Rome reported that the Carabinieri corps, despite being present at the event, failed to stop a Bengalese person from being attacked because the person was an “illegal alien”.

In addition, the treatment reserved for citizens of Roma or Sinti origin is persistently worrying, which includes housing in camps, constantly being subjected to forced evictions, the destruction of property, illegal expulsion, violence and psychological pressure. The Enar report stated that in every context of public life, migrants are subjected to violent checks on the basis of their identity, in violation of their individual's rights.

As far as the “negative” perception that foreign citizens who live in Italy have of treatment they have suffered at the hands of law-enforcement authorities, the European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey (EU MIDIS) shows that Italy is on the front line in Europe. According to 67% of Albanians, 45% of Romanians, and 55% of North Africans, the last time they were stopped by the police was because of their ethnicity. But, for those victims, to seek justice for the abuses suffered at the hands of the authorities can turn out to be a difficult task due to the lack of awareness, the difficulty in availing themselves of the judiciary system, and for fear of reprisals.

Moreover, violation of the code of conduct by police forces, even in the case of Italian citizens, is often covered up and rarely punished. Despite the many international admonitions, Italy is the only country in which there are no political and even fewer legislative stances being taken to include these ethnic profiling events in a normative framework that would make it possible for legal action to be taken.

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