Carlo Stasolla

This description of Carlo Stasolla's work was prepared when Carlo Stasolla was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2017 .

Introduction

Carlo is working to end the segregation of Europe’s most marginalized populations, the Roma, by working at the institutional, community and civil society levels to transform the conventional approach to the issue from an ethnic perspective to a socio-economic one.

The New Idea

Carlo founded Associazione 21 Luglio in order to transform the way the Italian Government deals with the marginalization of Roma groups. His intuition lies in demonstrating the Government’s failure on the issue and thus reframing a solution to improve these people’s lives, aligning economic incentives with human rights programs. His ultimate aim is to fully de-segregate the population (overcoming the so-called “Roma camps”) and deconstruct the stigmatization of these groups, in order to protect and value their cultural differences and ensure their complete inclusion into societies across Europe.

Carlo works on three levels. He is working at the institutional level to reframe the solutions to the integration of “Roma people”; he is empowering these communities to gain awareness on their civil rights and knowledge on how to access different welfare services; he is shifting the common perception on the issue through a work with the media.

Since 2010 Carlo has published more than 15 reports shading light on the social problem as well as weekly press releases which reach 15’000 readers each on average. Carlo has produced various policy recommendations for the City Council of Rome, which led to the first municipal plan to overcome Roma camps. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has been working with motions presented by Associazione 21 Luglio which led the Civil Court of Rome to acknowledge “the discriminatory nature of the indirect conduct of the City Council of Rome” against Roma people.

With the support of the European Commission, and with a few European countries already replicating his approach (e.g. Croatia and Kosovo), Carlo aims at scaling his impact across Europe within the next five to ten years.

The Problem

Between the 1980s and the 1990s Italy became the destination of various spontaneous settlements of populations coming from Eastern Europe and former Yugoslavia. They built shacks for their families, which then became their homes, being ignored and tolerated by the institutions that considered that residential model part of their culture. Despite being a heterogeneous group of different cultures, these populations began being labelled as “Roma” and, behind the will to “respect their culture”, local and central governments began a series of interventions that only worsened the segregation of these populations into so-called “Roma camps”.

In practice, Italian institutions legitimize the segregation of Roma populations by removing them from their informal settlements through forced evictions, and creating new, institutionalized but still marginalized and abandoned, camps. The National Strategy for Roma Inclusion 2012-2020 is not leading to any significant result. Between November and June 2017 around 500 people have been forced out of their informal camps into new ones, for a total estimated cost of approximately 600,000 euros. There are about 18,000 Roma people living in institutional camps and approximately 10,000 living in informal settlements. 31.25% of these people are stateless according to Italian authorities and 55% are children, who are paying the highest price. The Italian Ministry of Public Education provides a separate school program for Roma children. With this approach, the Italian central government and local governments have been complicit in marginalizing the Roma populations.

Both formal and informal settlements become areas of high violence and poverty rates. The impossibility to find jobs because of the stateless status of many of them and the general exclusion from society, lead many Roma people into criminal and illegal behaviours. Their living conditions are highly emergencial, with a life expectancy ten years lower than all other people living in Italy. According to the United Nations, this state of segregation represents a serious violation of fundamental human rights, as it is thoroughly described in the Sixth Periodic Report of the Human Rights Committee. Children grow underweight, are affected by respiratory diseases or even tuberculosis, scabies, infections. Among teenagers, abuse of alcohol and narcotics is very high compared to teenagers living outside of these camps.

This precarious situation and the political approach to the social problem have fueled negative public opinion. Anti-Roma discourses are spread by far-right movements. In 2015 an Italian MEP declared on mainstream television that “Roma are the scum of society”. This rhetoric of hatred and generalized stereotypes are contributing to increase this discrimination. In general, anti-Roma discourses translate into barriers to access fundamental rights, such as housing and employment, prepare the ground for more violence and hate crimes, and hamper the implementation of social policies aimed at inclusion. In 2015 the Pew Research Center found out that 86% of interviewed Italians expressed a negative opinion regarding the Roma indistinctly.

By all means, Roma people live in a de-facto ethnic segregation. Such problem is growing constantly all over the continent, with more people migrating to Europe. With new waves of immigrants arriving in Europe, there is an urgent need to re-examine this type of modern apartheid.

The Strategy

Carlo's strategy to achieve racial de-segregation of Roma is multi-pronged, affecting institutions, communities and public opinion. Carlo began producing various reports since 2010 on the conditions of Roma in Italy. He mapped all the camps across Italy, providing basic and missing information about housing conditions, family composition, and schooling of camps dwellers. His research has gained national relevance and recognition, becoming a reference document for Amnesty International and national newspapers, as well as for Italian institutions such as the Extraordinary Commission for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights. Carlo’s weekly press releases reach an average of 15’000 readers each and his researchers and reports are published by the main national newspapers (such as LaRepubblica, Il Corriere Della Sera, La Stampa, Il Fatto quotidiano, Avvenire). In 2016 Associazione 21 Luglio presented to the candidate mayors of Rome a policy paper containing a concrete plan for the closure of Roma camps within 5 years and the complete de-segregation and inclusion of Roma people. This has led the current City Council of Rome to adopt the first “Plan to Overcome Roma Camps", where for the first time an institution takes action in the direction of closing the camps and integrating the people into society.

At the European level, Carlo has been working closely with the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, through motions and reports, and being audited by the European Parliament. This has led ECRI to publish a report on the conditions of Roma living in Italy, reaffirming how Roma community settlements are a form of segregation and discrimination based on ethnic origins, in violation of Italian and European law. This brought to the first court ruling in Europe - by the Civil Court of Rome - which convicts the City Council of Rome for discrimination. ECRI has however recently emphasized that no suitable responses and alternative solutions have been put in place by the Italian institutions after this judicial judgement and it is therefore currently monitoring their work with the support of Associazione 21 Luglio, for the concrete implementation of the National Strategy for the Inclusion of Roma.

Carlo’s alternative solution to the current approach is that of guaranteeing to these populations complete access to the public welfare services already existing. Carlo is thus reframing the perspective on the social problem from an ethnic one to a socio-economic one. Economic incentives, social housing solutions, public schooling and health services, are all existing services every person in Italy should already have access to. At the community level, Carlo is working to train and empower groups of young adults to demand these human rights for their community. The program engages young men and women, both Roma and non-Roma and it aims to create community leaders that can learn and share what their civil and human rights are and how to access the public services available to them as inhabitants of the Italian territory. Community leaders gain knowledge on how to legally leave the camps and motivate their peers towards an integration into the civil society.

Carlo also carries out his empowerment activities with children living in the camps, through a project called Amarò Foro, that in Romanì language means “My City”. This project, for both children and their families, started in 2015 and involves kids from 7 to 13 years of age. Children are engaged in creative activities, such as drawing, music and dance. In addition, they visit the city and discovered life outside the camps, along with other Italian children and peers from other ethnic groups. Since 2015, more than 250 children have participated in Amarò Foro and over 40 families have been supported in regularizing their documents to access the welfare services they were denied until then.

Finally, Carlo is addressing the social problem by shifting public opinion on Roma populations. His strategy to do so is to work directly with the media and reframe the way they address the issue. In 2013, Carlo launched an observatory that monitors online and offline media to denounce and modify the racist media language. Since the beginning of his activity, reporting fell from 3 per day in 2013 to 0.5 in 2016, proving a large decrease in hate speech found within newspapers. Many are the cases of journalists being sanctioned by the Association of Journalists, after Associazione 21 Luglio’s reports. These actions also led to the abolishment of the use of the word “Roma camps” in the free-distribution MetroNews newspaper of the city of Rome, which now only refers to the Roma situation from a housing emergency perspective, thus eliminating the ethnic meaning of settlements and focusing on the socio-economic one.

Through his activation and empowerment actions, Carlo has reduced the number of camps dwellers in the biggest camp in Rome from 1200 to 600 since he started his activity there in 2015. This happened at no public cost for the government and with no implementation of special programs, but simply including these people — living in extreme poverty conditions — in the existing welfare system.

Currently, Carlo is creating a national network of associations working with Roma people and sharing the vision of putting an end to the segregation of the neediest populations, whether they are Roma or any other new immigrant. To date, Carlo has managed to involve more than 300 organizations in networking with Associazione 21 Luglio and they will soon sign a manifesto of intent. At the European level, Carlo has been holding workshops and training session with Croatian and Kosovars organizations to replicate his model in their countries. He is then working closely with European institutions for the implementation of norms to end the segregation once and for all in the next few years in all countries.

The Person

Carlo Stasolla grew up in a typical middle-class family with both parents employed. His life was dramatically affected at the age of 13, when his father passed away. His education, however, has been very much guided, by both school education and within the Scout Movement, where he has always held leadership roles—from becoming a group leader to opening a Scout section in his own city.

Driven by a strong motivation for inner research and spirituality, he left his family at the age of 20 to go to prayer and meditation retreats, where he met a mentor who accompanied his spiritual journey. His true inspiration came from the biography of Charles de Foucald and his life experience with the poorest. Carlo got inspired and thought about going to share his life with the people living in the favelas in Latin America. However, another book crossed his path and changed his life: Zingaro mio fratello (Gypsy my brother), describing the life of a family in a shanty town in Italy. That’s how he discovered that Italy has its own favelas. Motivated by this reading, he went to live in an informal camp in the city of Rome.

The Roma population was suspicious at first, imagining that he was fleeing from a great love disappointment or from the police. However, he began to live with them and remained there for several years and met a young Roma girl, Jamila, who was experiencing several arguments and troubles within her family because she wanted to leave the camp and work towards the integration of Roma into the society. After six months of engagement, they got married and had a baby while living in the camps. After some time, Carlo discovered that Jamila’s family was the one described in the book that changed his life many years earlier.

Together with Jamila, Carlo has continuously changed camps, always working for the protection of human rights. Then, they left the camps to open a shelter house for immigrants and disadvantaged children. Finally, in 2010, they established Associazione 21 Luglio to ensure a dignified life and the recognition of human rights to the Roma people and to anyone in similar conditions across Italy and Europe.