Thursday, October 15, 2009

Roma Children Drowned before an Apathetic Public

The Picture that Shames Italy EPA

I have read and re-read this story of the two Roma (Gypsy) girls drowned on a beach in Naples, Italy and the beach-goers continuing to sunbathe beside their corpses as if the dead children were nothing but seashells. This is a news story from July 2008, but it is just as pertinent this year. It is truly gruesome, but unfortunately, it does not surprise me. Racism has no boundaries, which is why it must be conquered by love. We are all people.

To be balanced, I have two news sources, The Independent "The Picture that Shames Italy," and EveryOne (a human rights organization) "Two Children of the Ethnic Group Roma Drown in Naples." Both are excellent articles covering the terrifying incident, but EveryOne has done some more digging, finding the story that the girls went into the water of their own volition a little hard to swallow.

Two girls Cristina, aged 14, and Violetta, aged 14, were selling trinkets on the beach with their two cousins, aged 13 and 11, and drowned in the rough tide. The Independent credits their drowning to their exhaustion and the temptation of the cool sea during the hot day, but EveryOne points out how unusual it would be for these girls to decide to go for a swim while they were working and when the Roma culture takes modesty very seriously. However, the most disturbing element of this tragedy is that the beach goers continued to enjoy the sun and such beside the washed up, lifeless bodies of these children as if they were not there at all. Peter Popham of The Independent writes, "The indifference was taken as shocking proof that many Italians no longer have human feelings for the Roma, even though the communities have lived side by side for generations."

"This was the other terrible thing," says Mr Esposito, "besides the fact of the girls drowning: the normality. The way people continued to sunbathe, for three hours, just metres away from the bodies. They could have gone to a different beach. It's not possible that you can watch two young people die then carry on as if nothing happened. It showed a terrible lack of sensitivity and respect."

Popham describes the Italians' relationship with the Roma people, "Roma have been living in Italy for seven centuries and the country is home to about 150,000, who live mainly in squalid conditions in one of around 700 encampments on the outskirts of major cities such as Rome, Milan and Naples. They amount to less than 0.3 per cent of the population, one of the lowest proportions in Europe. But their poverty and resistance to integration have made them far more conspicuous than other communities. And the influx of thousands more migrants from Romania in the past year has confirmed the view of many Italians that the Gypsies and their eyesore camps are the source of all their problems. The ethnic group is often blamed for petty theft and burglaries. According to a recent newspaper survey, more than two thirds of Italians want Gypsies expelled, 'whether they hold Italian passports or not.'"

Roberto Malini writing for EveryOne concludes his article, "'The Roma people are just a scourge,' say the politicians, the authorities, the journalists. The tragedy that took place on Torregaveta beach is not worthy of shedding a tear for, not worthy of wasting a prayer on.

On the sand lie two starfish."

Check out groups like EveryOne and Roma Rights and see what you can do. There are frequently efforts to contact government officials in countries like Bulgaria, Romania, and Italy (really most countries to be perfectly frank) that have serious human rights issues concerning the Roma people who are too long mythic scapegoats and targets of violence.

Love all people.

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