Sunday, August 17, 2008

She knew we were being treated like animals

Today's Observer has an article on the Italian administrations attitude to the Roma as revealed the current fingerprinting and the spotlight exposing attitudes in two young deaths by the sea.'Why do the Italians hate us?'
Miriana hands me another photograph of Violetta. She is posing in a ruffled pink dress. 'She wanted to be a dancer. She didn't want to go to school. She only wanted to be beautiful. Cristina was a bad influence on Violetta. She didn't like school. She hated living in the camp. Her grandmother said she was just trying to find her place somewhere, but she would've grown into a strong woman. She had the will and the determination. Above all she wanted to be able to walk into the shops in the city, look at the dresses without being chased by the police. She would cut dresses out of magazines and place a cut-out of her head on to them. It was her way of escaping. Violetta just watched. She worshipped her big sister.

'In the days after the girls died a Catholic priest visited us and apologised for the local people on the beach, who he said had misunderstood the situation. I asked him why the Italians hated us, why they looked at the bodies of two dead children and smeared on sun cream and he had no answers. He wept and told me the Roma were still God's children. I told him it doesn't feel like it. We are the ones the Italians blame for the poverty outside the camp. That is their own making, not ours, not my children's fault.'

Miriana is barely 30 but looks a decade older. Married at 14 and a mother of five by her early twenties, she escaped the Bosnian-Serbian border area as a teenager, hoping for a new life in Italy. All three of her surviving children are unschooled. The youngest don't have birth certificates. They simply don't exist and she wants to keep it that away. One of the last things Cristina and Violetta did was to be fingerprinted by the authorities. 'Cristina and Violetta gave their fingerprints shortly before they died. Violetta was upset. She ran away and started crying. She thought the police were coming to take her away. Cristina was angry and scrubbed the ink from her thumb. She understood everything. She knew we were being treated like animals. She died knowing she had no real hope of a better life.'

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