The position of Roma and Sinti communities in Italy is a direct consequence of various migratory flows that have affected the country from the 15th century to the early 2000s. As a result of these flows, it is possible to identify 22 communities of Roma and Sinti populations.
As it is impossible to carry out censuses on an ethnic basis in Italy, there are no concrete numbers about the members of the different groups. According to the Council of Europe, the number of Roma and Sinti living in Italy could be between 110,000 and 170,000. However, only a small proportion of them live in a condition of hypervisibility because they reside in formal camps —settlements designed, built and managed by local authorities according to ethnic criteria — and informal settlements.
Formal and informal settlements
The latest report presented last November 4th in the Senate by Associazione 21 Luglio states that 11,300 people live in the 109 formal camps on national soil — half of them hailing from former Yugoslavia. Of these, some have Italian citizenship and others have Romanian citizenship. There are also 6,500 people, with Romanian or Bulgarian citizenship, living in informal settlements.
Without precise data relating to those Roma and Sinti people who have ostensibly integrated into Italian society (who live in conventional homes, do not wear traditional clothing, speak fluent Italian, and send their children to school), the only studies and analyses about the condition of Roma and Sinti early childhood in Italy refer to the 15% of Roma and Sinti living in mono-ethnic settlements — in conditions of extreme segregation, exclusion, physical and relational isolation. As a result, this group cannot be considered representative of the majority.
Since 2000, Italy has been referred to by the European Roma Rights Center as “The Campland” because it has used by far the most economic and human resources to maintain ethnic-based housing arrangements of any country in Europe. The daily realities of life in these formal and informal settlements makes the promotion of actions that affect childcare particularly complex. The absence of electricity and drinking water, air pollution, living inside a caravan or container, the absence of safe spaces for play, economic precariousness, real and perceived exclusion, distance from the school, are all elements that hinder the healthy growth and development of a child from birth.
In such residential contexts the social elevator remains stuck. From birth, the fate of Roma and Sinti children is influenced and guided by these harsh statistics. According to a study conducted in 2016 by Associazione 21 Luglio, the life of a child born within a mono-ethnic settlement immediately appears to be an “obstacle race”.
- A Roma child who lives in a formal or informal settlement in the city of Rome is 30-40% more likely to be estranged from their family and declared adoptable that a non-Roma child.
- The practice of early marriage has strong physical, intellectual, psychological and emotional repercussions among the adolescents involved;
- Children, known as “white orphans” — who are left behind in Romania when their parents emigrate to Italy in search of jobs and resources that will help give their children a better future — experience strong repercussions on nutrition, sanitation and psycho-physical development in the absence of a maternal care giver.
- In 2015 in Italy, an average of 40 children, aged between 0 and 3, led a life as “prisoners” in jail with their mothers. The majority of these were of Roma origin.
From the limited data available, it appears that children in “Roma camps” have a shorter life expectancy and higher infant mortality than the reference populations. They are born underweight more often than other children and suffer from respiratory diseases in greater numbers than their non-Roma peers. Moreover, these children are often affected by poisoning, burns and domestic accidents. Discomfort or degradation diseases or “diseases of poverty” are increasing — such as tuberculosis, scabies, pediculosis, as well as viral, fungal, and venereal infections, which occur with ever greater frequency than in the past.
Associazione 21 Luglio has developed a full website to present the state of affairs of the camps in Italy. Navigate throughout Il Paesi dei Campi (The Campland).
How is REYN Italy responding to these challenges?
The work of REYN Italy and other organizations in this network has been pivotal in promoting equal rights for Roma children over the past few years. However, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the cohesion, sense of belonging and functionality of the Italian network. It is, therefore, necessary to reinforce and rebuild the REYN Italy which, in turn, will have a significant impact on the lives of Roma children living in Italy.
That’s why we plan to:
- build cohesion and participation inside the REYN Italy network while increasing the number of its members. REYN Italy aims at revitalizing, reinforcing and broadening its membership, and engaging institutions such as municipalities, schools, health and family counselling centers.
- advocate for access to inclusive, quality and non-discriminatory early childhood development for Roma children. In the Italian context, these objectives are crucial in continuing to promote and facilitate the social change that we are seeing in regards to Roma settlements with knock-on effects on their standards of living, and the protection of the rights of Roma children.
In order to support the rights and lives of Roma children, REYN Italy activities will highlight among decision-makers the need to guarantee, protect and promote the rights of Roma children.
 The Sinti are to be found primarily in the German-speaking regions (Germany, Switzerland, Austria) where they settled in the 15th century, and in Benelux and Sweden. There is a southern sub-branch of the Sinti in northern Italy (Piemont, Lombardy) and in southeastern France (Provence), whose language comprises a partly Italian-based vocabulary. In France, they are also called Manush. Sinti/Manush represent 2 to 3% of the total Roma population (generic sense) in Europe.
 Associazione 21 luglio, L’esclusione nel tempo del Covid, Roma, 2021.
 ERRC, “Campland”, Budapest, 2000. http://www.errc.org/uploads/upload_en/file/00/0F/m0000000F.pdf
 Associazione 21 luglio, Uscire per sognare, 2016.
 Some Roma in Italy live in a state of separation from mainstream Italian society. These Roma live segregated on ethnic basis in some areas, excluded and ignored, in filthy and squalid conditions, without basic infrastructure. They “squat” abandoned buildings or set up camps along the road or in open spaces with tents, caravans or shacks. They can be evicted at any moment, their settlements are often called “illegal” or “unauthorised”. Other Roma live in “camps” or squalid ghettos that are “authorised and provided with caravans or prefebricated buildings”. The smaller camps, home to only fifteen to thirty people, are generally unauthorised. Authorised camps tend to comprise at least one hundred people.
UNAR, Strategia Nazionale per l’Inclusione dei Rom sinti e caminanti, Roma, 2012.