Photographs published yesterday showing Italian sunbathers going about their sun soaking despite the nearby corpses of two drowned Roma children are causing a splash across all of Italy. The two girls, both younger than 15, drowned Saturday in strong currents despite rescue efforts, and the bodies were laid in the sun awaiting emergency services.
One of the ambulance drivers said, "we picked up the bodies amid total indifference." An Italian newspaper says, "while the lifeless bodies of the girls were still on the sand, there were those who carried on sunbathing or having lunch just a few meters away." Lunch.
The incident is a graphic pictorial display of tension between the ethnic Romas (also called Gypsies), and other locals. Recent crackdowns on the population, combined with the controversy surrounding the current census, has led to a visit by a European human rights group who heard of the plan to fingerprint all Roma, including children. Some have compared this idea (which is on hold for now) to the Nazi treatment of the Jews.
What's behind the tension? To find out,
An estimated 150,000 Roma live in encampments on the edges of Italian cities. Though they're a distinct ethnic group with origins in northern India, just over 40 percent of modern Roma are legal Italians, possessing Italian passports. When Romania joined the EU last year, the population grew and questions regarding the new arrivals' lifestyle spark problems and hostility.
Many Italians are openly aggressive toward the population, accusing them of refusing to work in favor of stealing and shunning their seclusion in squalid, illegal camps. Pro-Roma critics say that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has exploited anti-Roma feeling for political gain.
The situation Italy faces, depicted graphically in these photos, with the Roma sounds similar to other nations facing immigration struggles. Is there a Roma equivalent in most nations — do recent immigrants always face discrimination and exploitation? Or does behavior, rather than immigrant status, count more?