Four Roma children die in Italy fire

Four children aged between three and 11 years old died Sunday in a fire at an illegal Roma camp on the outskirts of the Italian capital, officials said.

"The bodies were half burned," a fire service spokesman told AFP.

The ages of the victims were three, five, seven and 11, said the spokesman, adding that the remains of what was feared to be a fifth child turned out to be those of a small animal.

The fire started at 8:30 pm (1930 GMT) in an illegal encampment along a route that runs southeast out of the city, said Italy's ANSA news agency. The cause is under investigation.

The family, with seven members total, lived in one of five makeshift shacks in a camp that authorities had torn down several times, only to see it rebuilt by the Roma.

"These damn illegal camps have be cleared out of Rome," the city's mayor Gianni Alemanno told reporters as he visited the site.

Campaigners say thousands of Roma live in and around the capital, most of them in illegal onstructions, which city authorities last year pledged would be shut down.

They plan to build three new camps to house 6,000 Roma by the end of the year, to add to the seven such camps that already exist around Rome.

Alemanno blamed the "damned bureaucracy" that had blocked this project for Sunday's deaths.

An estimated 11 million Roma or Gypsies live in Europe, generally in extreme poverty and with a lack of education opportunities in European Union states.

Their continuing plight came into sharp focus last year when France expelled hundreds of Roma back to Romania and Bulgaria over concerns about crime and security.

The French policy sparked an EU-wide debate about the failed integration of Roma across the 27-nation bloc.

 

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