Pope 'suffers' with Roma, Sinti people amid tensions in Rome

Vatican City (AFP) –


Pope Francis said Thursday he "suffers" when he reads about threats made against Roma and Sinti people, following tensions in Rome over the allocation of social housing to Bosnian Roma.

Imer and Senada Omerovic, a Bosnian couple who have lived in Italy since 1992, have been the victims of violent threats since moving this week with their 12 children to a small apartment in Casal Bruciato, a suburb of the Italian capital.

The couple, who waited two years for housing, received rape threats from neighbours and neo-fascist activists who argue that priority in allocating housing units should be given to Italian families.

"When I read something bad in the newspaper, I must say, I suffer," Francis said at a pre-arranged audience with some 500 Roma and Sinti at the Vatican.

"Today I read something bad, and I suffer, because this is not civilised, it's not," he said, in an apparent reference to the Omerovics.

"It's true that there are second-class citizens. But real second-class citizens are those who reject people... who live with a broom in their hands to chase away others," he added.

Sinti and Roma have lived in Europe for centuries, with Sinti referring to a traditionally itinerant ethnic group from Western and Central Europe, while Roma are of eastern and southeast European origin.

Over half the 170,000 or so Roma and Sinti people in Italy are Italian citizens with regular jobs and houses, but hate crimes against the poorest are rife.

Threats against Roma and Sinti people have increased under Italy's far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini, who has called for a new census of Roma and for all non-Italian Roma to be expelled from the country.