Having been shocked by the horrible living conditions of the Roma in the Italian capital while jogging earlier this week I today returned to the area, camera in hand. There were no police or military present this time.
It’s far from easy to take photos when people are looking at you from all sides and wondering who the guy is with the zoom lens and the black satchel. Plus knowing the tensions between the Roma population and the ‘establishment’ I cannot have known what reactions my presence would have provoked. Still I managed a few shots that convey the depravation of the camp.
Rather that surreptitiously take photos I decided to walk right up to the camp and try to talk to someone to gain a further insight into what had happened here earlier in the week. I approached an elderly chap and asked in my limited Italian why the military had been present earlier in the week.
‘Perché?’ He replied with a shrug, not wishing to divulge any information. The mention of the ‘militari’ drew an interesting reaction from the small boy beside the old gentleman, hands to his face and eyes darting with nerves. I tried to ask whether such military action was normal as in the UK I had never seen anything like it; this too provoked a shrug.
By this time I had drawn the attention of the whole family, bringing the women away from a rough pan of minced meat being prepared beside an old stove outside the metal shack. Feeling I better not pry any more I said goodbye and thank you to the old guy, shook his hand and drew a toothless smile. I’m not sure what he and his family made of this meeting with a stranger who spoke little Italian but at least showed them some respect.
I walked back towards my hotel with a sadness in my heart. How in 2009 in the European Union can people live like this? No sanitation, make-shift metal shacks surrounded by puddles and mud?
For some added irony the wall of the bridge on the main road close to the camp was plastered with posters with a baby with a crown with the slogan “Roma Capitale della Vita” (Rome Capital of Life) put up by a group on the right of Italian politics, and for Di Pietro’s “Italia dei Valori” party. CGIL’s “Italiano / Straniero” campaign posters adorned a derelict building a little further – does it apply to Roma too? Beside the CGIL posters a dead moped is propped up in front of billboards for Berlusconi’s party stating how the local police had been armed.
What do the Roma feel when walking past all of this on their way back to their deprived corner by the Tiber? What do the middle class parents in their Fiats think when dropping their children off at the Circolo Sportivo RAI (the sport centre of the state TV) just a matter of metres from shocking poverty?
I don’t know what the solutions are for all of this, but in most of Europe there would be an outcry if prisoners were kept in surroundings like this – where are the people helping out and caring here?