Italy’s Roma: just how bad?

Very unhappy article in the Guardian today about the Roma situation in Italy:

Last week, Silvio Berlusconi’s new rightwing Italian administration announced plans to carry out a national registration of all the country’s estimated 150,000 Gypsies – Roma and Sinti people – whether Italian-born or migrants. Interior minister and leading light of the xenophobic Northern League, Roberto Maroni, insisted that taking fingerprints of all Roma, including children, was needed to “prevent begging” and, if necessary, remove the children from their parents…

In the same week as Maroni was defending his racial registration plans in parliament, Italy’s highest appeal court ruled that it was acceptable to discriminate against Roma on the grounds that “all Gypsies were thieves”, rather than because of their “Gypsy nature”.

Official roundups and forced closures of Roma camps have been punctuated with vigilante attacks. In May, rumours of an abduction of a baby girl by a Gypsy woman in Naples triggered an orgy of racist violence against Roma camps by thugs wielding iron bars, who torched caravans and drove Gypsies from their slum homes in dozens of assaults, orchestrated by the local mafia, the Camorra. The response of Berlusconi’s government to the firebombing and ethnic cleansing? “That is what happens when Gypsies steal babies,” shrugged Maroni; while fellow minister and Northern League leader Umberto Bossi declared: “The people do what the political class isn’t able to do.”

This sounds pretty alarming. On the other hand, it’s (1) the Guardian, and (2) Seumas “it’s all been straight downhill since the Miners Strike” Milne. So, possibly some pearl-clutching here.

Other-other hand, this is a real, serious problem. The current Italian government seems to be making a very deliberate choice to scapegoat immigrants in general, and the Roma (whether immigrant or native) in particular.

I guess this is something of a bleg. Just how bad is it really getting in Italy? Brief googling doesn’t turn up much on the court’s “all Gypsies are thieves” decision; does anyone have anything on this? And the “fingerprint all Gypsies” bill: political theater, or really likely to pass and be enforced? The Northern League is obnoxious, that’s clear; is Maroni really as bad as all that?

Also, a legal question: what mechanisms, if any, would there be to prevent human rights abuses on this scale in an EU member? Individuals whose rights are violated could appeal to the European Court of Justice, but is there anything else?

As you can see, this isn’t really my area. But it seems like something to keep an eye on…

38 thoughts on “Italy’s Roma: just how bad?

  1. I am sympathetic to the italians – I live with Roma all around me in this city. None of their kids go to school, because they aren’t registered. They don’t pay taxes cos they aren’t on the map. As for crime, well there’s shitloads of it. In other words, the roma are a real problem. They are like a destitute sort of society of anarchists that hate wider society.

    So how do you get them to go to school, so their kids aren’t begging in the streets, prostituting themselves, and all the rest of it that I see round here? When they won’t register themselves and do everything they can to avoid being on the map? Seems to me a radical solution such as what the italians have come up with is a good start.

    Of course people will get upset by it and blether on about fascism and how Roma are really nice and cuddly people and have never committed a crime in their livs. Whatever – clearly these people have never had to actually live in a community that the Roma prey on and hasn’t witnessed their incredibly self destructive culture.

    If you are an immigrant and you want to stay in the UK or Italy there are certain things I reckon you should have to do, like send your children to school. If you don’t and a whole community of you is building up that doesn’t live by any means other than theivery on the margins of society, and by deliberate choice, radical actions are called for.

  2. Thank you for taking up this touchy subject that is starting to feel like the third rail of European politics. I am a Frenchman that lives in Italy (Rome) and I agree with Vavtch that there is a serious integration problem here.

    However, it is not single-handedly the problem of Roma, rather that of all immigrant communities in Italy that seriously lack the proper structures to integrate (the Roma population in Italy, is roughly of 0,1 million – pretty much the same as in the UK – in comparison to 0,3 million in France and 0,8 million in Spain). It rather feels as if no government (this one included, not to mention the previous two Berlusconi governments) has truly not done anything to seriously consider these issues. They have become sub-issues of a larger whole, especially regarding the economic crisis, purchasing power crisis, housing crisis, etc.

    The lack of integration (through legalization of working migrants and access to the education and public health systems) facilitates low-level crime waves that are exploited by local, regional and national politicians such as Gianni Alemanno, Francesco Storace, Umberto Bossi and Silvio Berlusconi. This form of political scapegoating through anti-Roma policies (most visible and most vulnerable migrant community) has become rather indecent as it is used by the government to justify just about anything, such as the Naples garbage crisis or the governmental attack on the judiciary, and permits militias to roam in Roma population areas, thus creating a permanent level of tension. What is really infuriating about these policies is that past expulsion from one area to another, no comprehensive integration policy has been formulated by the government.

    The European Court of Justice and the Council of Europe’s European Court of Human Rights and Commissioner for Human Rights might be the last legal recourse (no EU agencies have any say once inside migrants have passed the borders; the same is true for the EU Commission prior to Lisbon Traty ratification with the accompanying Funda) but might also be the excuse Berlusconi is looking for to scapegoat his lack of results by punching a hole in the nascent European immigration policy. What is truly needed is a European fund (through FEDER) to evaluate the needs of Roma in each EU country and respond to their plight (those not willing to integrate being automatically sent back to their identifiable point of origin).

  3. Oups missing part: “the same is true for the EU Commission prior to Lisbon Treaty ratification with the accompanying Funda”mental Rights Charter reference (outside the UK and Poland)

  4. Well for centuries we’ve had exactly these problems with the jews and also found a sensible solution, so why not stay with the solutions that really worked?

  5. What is happening to the Roma in Italy is unprecedent in the post-WWII age and something needs to be done to put a stop to it. This is a security situation in that the these abuses are being perpetrated under the colour of law and legal authority of the Italian government and court system. An “emergency decree” has been declared against an entire group of people. Imagine the reaction in Europe and elsewhere if the Russians were to declare such a “decree” against the presence of Chechians.

    What the Italian government is doing IS REALLY BAD and you need to read the European Roma Rights Centre report before making misinformed statements either about the Roma or the actions of the Italian Government
    ( This is a serious security situation with regard to the treatment of the Roma and requires forceful action against Italy. Here are some excerpts:

    “In its first highly publicised anti-Romani move, during a meeting in Naples on 21 May 2008, the Council of Ministers of the Italian government passed a Decree, unprecedented in post World War II Europe, whose title reads “Declaration of the state of emergency with regard to nomad7 community settlements in the territories of Campania, Lazio and Lombardia regions. Defining the presence of Roma in the areas of Campania, Lazio, and Lombardia as a cause of great social alarm with possible grave repercussions in terms of public order and security, the Italian Government, proclaimed the state of emergency until 31 May 2009. Extraordinary powers usually permissible only in times of severe natural disasters were given to state and local officials to deal with this “problem”.

    In addition, on 1 July it was reported that Italy’s highest appeal court ruled that it is acceptable to discriminate against Roma on the grounds that they are thieves.

    The Coalition also documented forced evictions of Romanian Roma from a settlement in the Piazza Tirana in Milan. Until mid-April 2008, about 400 Romanian Roma lived in abandoned buildings and in barracks built by the Roma in the vicinity of a railway station. In April 2008, the police presented an administrative order of the Prefect of Milan, stipulating that the Roma concerned would have to leave the building and surrounding informal dwellings immediately. During this intervention, police officers reportedly assaulted several Roma, including members of the Valentine K.´s family. Valentine K. and his wife Argentina K. subsequently had to be treated in a local hospital for injuries sustained during the assault. After this demonstrative use of force,the police ordered the Roma to leave their dwellings immediately; they were not given any time to pick up their personal properties or food. The police subsequently destroyed the furnishings and personal belongings in the area. The eviction was performed in presence of children, who were witnesses of brutal attacks against their parents (both men and women) and the destruction of their homes. No alternative housing was provided to the evicted persons as the openly articulated motive for the forced eviction was to force them to return to Romania. The evicted people were rendered homeless for two weeks without any social assistance from the municipality or other organisation. At the time of the Coalition visit, they lived in a new informal settlement outside Milan city limits.”

    This is going on in modern Europe – and the only recourses are strong and forceful actions against the Italian government…just as against Milosevic and his brutality against Kosovar Albanians.

  6. vavatch – you sound like a throw back to the day when “people like this” were put on a train and sent off for a shower. People that think that it is ok for a modern European Member State to enact “emergency decrees” against an entire ethnic group are throwbacks that are the real threat to society.
    So- it is ok to roust families out of bed at 2AM and beat parents in the presence of their children and destroy their property? Really?
    It is ok to fingerprint children as “future criminals?”
    People that are being harassed under this fascist government in Italy are not criminals, but innocent people, just because they are Roma. It is hoped that, in the end, the Italian government and people have Holy Hell to pay, as who you elect and the things they do in office DO have repercussions.

    One Romani woman living in a Rome’s semi-formal Camp Casilino 900 testified to the Coalition recalled that in early April 2008, police officers entered the camp and destroyed 36 shacks. The woman testified,

    “I had a depot where I store things that I sell at the market. Approximately 6 weeks ago the police came and destroyed the depot together with 36 shacks. I was not allowed to remove my belongings though I begged them to allow me. In response they screamed at me, ‘Go away!’
    I have several health issues, including heart problems. When the police were destroying my depot, my heart condition worsened. Only after half an hour did the police allowed me to take my medicine from my house. After taking the medicine, I felt very weak and wanted to lie down but police did not allow me. I was only allowed to sit on a chair. When they destroyed the depot, the police threatened that they will destroy my house and all the camp soon, as well. Actually, they would have wiped out my house the same day together with the depot but my health condition stopped them.”

    One Romani individual living in Rome’s semi-formal Camp Casilino 900 camp with whom the Coalition spoke stated, “The police sometimes arrive at 2:00 -3:00 AM. They even break the doors of the shacks. They order people to go out in a very hostile and violent way. The police are full of prejudices against Roma.”34
    Another person living in Rome’s semi-formal Camp Martora reported that, “They [the police] enter the houses very violently. They destroy things! During one of the night raids, my son peed in his pants because of fear. When they come at night, they do not respect privacy. Women may be naked!”

    Access to public places and services is one area in which there is noted to be a distinct increase in discriminatory treatment of Roma. One young Romani man living in Rome testified to a member of the Coalition that, “Two days ago my mother went to supermarket. They insulted her and asked her to leave.”47 Another young Romani man from Rome stated, “I was in a coffee shop a few days ago and I was asked to leave.”48 Numerous Roma told representatives of the Coalition that in some areas in Northern Italy, Roma are not allowed to enter supermarkets.

    Anyone that says that this is a good thing to do to another group of human beings should not be living among sane rational, human beings!

  7. I just want to say that I totally agree with vavatch’s comments. Wonder why the countries or people that are opposed to Italy’s measures don’t adopt the Roma, instead of criticizing. What’s wrong with fingerprinting? Maybe the ones making so much noise about it are members of the organizations that put the Roma to work on the streets…

  8. Slight straw man there ESLaPorte I must say – I don’t recall saying that I wanted to see Roma beaten in the streets in front of their children, but there you go. Carry on arguing with your made up character.

    However if fingerprinting roma allows the italian authorities to force roma to do such recidivist, throwback things as sending their children to school, not making their children prostitute themselves, and to refrain from beating up and thieving from law abiding citizens, and so on, then more power to them.

    If you think the Roma are being unfairly characterized by me, then I suggest you go and live around them for a while.

  9. It’s very hard to send your kids to school when you don’t have a fixed address, especially in a notorious bureaucracy like Italy’s. It’s very hard to have a fixed address if the cops let the mafia burn it down. (And what’s so fucking normatively fantastic about postcodes anyway?)

    Why are those people in the ghetto so dirty? Can’t you see they are untermenschen?

    Clodia: there have always been Roma in Europe. Italy included. They were not invented by Romano Prodi, whatever may be on RAIUNO these days. They have always been an easy target for shitty politicians, our wonderful Michael Howard included. (Why won’t these uncivilised scum, well, not camp on the roadside? Because I made the local councils close their campsites! Aren’t I clever? LOOK, PIKEYS!!!! ANARCHY!!! I’M TOUGH!!! God, this shit gets boring. Can’t we at least have some more interesting form of authoritarian bollocks?)

  10. Alex, I think it is better that I lost my previous message because it could make you very, very upset, considering your sympathy towars de Roma. Last time I was in Rome I couldn’t walk w/o being assaulted by a Roma not asking but demanding money, not to mention the children, pulling my clothes with their dirty little hands. And Venice? The Roma playing the beggar role to collect money for their sponsors and the cumpa practically assaulting you with their bags. I decided to start saying: Polizia! Polizia! before they saw me and they flew right away… There are TOO MANY of these people in Italy and it has to stop, you like it or not. Discrimination… my foot!

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  12. First of all, I’m sorry for my poor english. However I’ll try to summarize for you the court’s decision about roma-thieves.

    During an official meeting in 2001, the Verona’s mayor, Fabio Tosi of the xenophobic Northern League, said that gipsy people must be forced out of the city because “where they arrive, there are always thefts”.
    He was charged with “racist propaganda”, but he won when the “Corte di Cassazione” (our High Court) decided that “thefts in gipsy’s areas are *facts*, not propaganda” and that Tosi was angry with *thieves* and not with *sinti*. (in italian)

    Btw, this is not our first problem, and Roberto Maroni isn’t the worst member of the Northern League, nor the worst minister in our government. Gipsy’s camps burnings, in the silence of goverment and in the silence of our “so called left-wing opposition” is far more alarming…

    Berlusconi’s election victory was built not only on the collapse of confidence in the centre-left government, but also on the fear of “the other”, “the stranger” and “the poor”.

    So, yes: it is something to keep an eye on…

  13. Klochov, if you are apologizing because your English is better than mine, don’t do it. I am sure that the ones that speak real English will understand US. Now, am I the one that doesn’t understand the problem with the Roma? I thought it was as simple as this: People without the permesso di sogorno should leave the country, unless they have a job offer, in which case they will get a visa if they are hired. The ones already working w/o permit (better than stealing or begging on the streets) will get their papers roo. The rest, goodbye, sayonara, arrivederci! What’s wrong with that? I know why some people are so upset about this… they will be losing their workers… who’s going to beg for them, steal for them, walk the streets for them… etc. etc.? Maybe people that love Roma so much should do what the Mayor of Venice is doing… build nice apartments (?) for them with the tax payers money, while the real citizens of Venice or Italy for that matter, have to move out of their beloved city because cannot afford the rent or the buildings are being sold to developers that want to build more hotels. I am not going to comment about this topic anymore. Makes me sick to see how hypocrites some individuals are. They pretend to care, when in fact they don’t move a finger to correct things. It is very easy to criticize… wish I know how they live… maybe they don’t even have a job.

  14. I’m sorry Clodia, actually I was not answering you, but Douglas… 🙂

    However I still think that Gipsy’s camps burnings *are* alarming. And it’s interesting to consider that Italy, according to english wikipedia, has about 90,000–110,000 Roma people; Spain 600,000 to 1,500,000; France 500,000 (official estimation) to 1,300,000.

    [Total population: Italy 59,619,290 – Spain 45,200,737 – France 61,875,822]

    Are their Gipsies more honest than ours?
    Or, perhaps, more honest are their governments and media?

  15. What is so funny about this, is that the Roma are european, and so you cannot send them far away. They will always come back if they want to live in Italy.

    You’d better ask them what they want. They surely have some other project than living in a slum, being thiefs. What? No? Well, then get the police patrolling every where they are, putting them in jail when they break the law. Every thief in jail, problem solved.

  16. Nobody wants to send them far away, but to where they belong. Everybody knows they are european too. We all know that they like to live in a slum because that’s what they are used to. Why? Because they can easily run away, disappear, if they have committed a felony and the police is after them. The government is doing that now, not putting in jail the ones that break the law but sending them back to where they came from and that’s also called ‘discrimination’ by the people that have no idea of what really is happening in Italy. Did you see how they are protesting because the military are patrolling the streets? The opponents say that they will scare the tourists… I would be more than happy knowing that there will be more control on the streets. Thankfully, the law has passed and I am sure everyone is going to be just fine. Ooops! I just remembered that I promised to myself not to comment about this… Putting them in jail… sure… and feed them with the taxpayers money… Nice!

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  18. I just want to say that I totally agree with vavatch’s comments. Wonder why the countries or people that are opposed to Italy’s measures don’t adopt the Roma, instead of criticizing.

    Just because you’re bad doesn’t mean you can’t denounce it when someone else does something evil. Besides, there are Roma everywhere. Are you suggesting they should all be carted off to one country ?

    What’s wrong with fingerprinting?

    Well, it can be argued to be a violation of privacy. Your turn : what’s good about fingerprinting people based exclusively on ethnicity ? If you want to fingerprint criminals, then fingerprint criminals. Or all young men between 15 and 25, aren’t they a high risk group for crime too ?

    However if fingerprinting roma allows the italian authorities to force roma to do such recidivist, throwback things as sending their children to school, not making their children prostitute themselves, and to refrain from beating up and thieving from law abiding citizens, and so on, then more power to them.

    Maybe. But I don’t believe your premise. Could you please explain the logistics of how fingerprinting helps force people to send their children to school ?

  19. Nobody wants to send them far away

    Let’s see… “People without the permesso di sogorno should leave the country,”

    Well, you do evidently.

    , but to where they belong.

    And where would that be ? I’ll avoid invoking Godwin (too late) and just point out they’re nomads. They belong nowhere and everywhere. Including Italy.

    This seem to be a difficult concept to grasp for you. If you burn their slums, they’ll just move and settle a bit farther, which will make another slum. And the more of their stuff you destroy, the poorer they are, and the more difficult it becomes for them to move. So you’re not making them leave, you’re just generating a more and more impoverished population. And guess what impoverished populations do. Why yes, they beg and steal.

    Face it, there are only two solutions. Well, three if you include doing nothing : status quo, integration, and extermination.

    One of those was tried already and apparently didn’t work that well. Also, it’s evil.

    If you think the Roma are being unfairly characterized by me, then I suggest you go and live around them for a while.

    I’ve got no idea as I haven’t lived around Roma. Well, I’ve walked past camps of them on the way to school sometimes when I was young and never noticed anything bad about them.

    However, even if they’re as bad as you say, marginalizing them further won’t solve anything. Unless you intend to go all the way.

  20. Nobody wants to send them far away, but to where they belong.

    Who the hell is “They?”
    Are you kidding?
    Does this include children and elderly?

    Youtube video on the Roma – NOT “all criminals!”

    First of all, you cannot say that an entire ethnic group is criminal because some in that group commit crimes. there are those here in the US that believe that “blacks commit crimes” – and it is unacceptable in a democratic society that states to believe in human rights to target an entire ethnic group!

    What I read on this board from those that “sympathize with the Italian government” is inconceivable in modern Europe. “Go live around them?” Them? Including children, the elderly and innocent people just trying to live their lives? There are football stars and at least one MEP that is of Roma heritage.

    The only solution is integration of the Roma. And that starts first with capturing those who have committed violent crimes against Roma people and putting them in prison for a very long time!

    Youtube video on the Roma – NOT “all criminals!”

    Also – I have been on various forums and am considering writing a paper that will call on the European Union to do something other than the Commission investigate for compliance with Community laws. What needs to happen is some kind of forceful action against Italy, such as suspension of EU membership. Europe should not tolerate the emergence of fascism and ethnic cleaning in Europe. Also, in order to regain EU membership – Italy’s police forces would be under monitoring and perhaps there needs to be retraining of police forces in Italy altogether by a Europol mission as in Chad and the Balkans . Also, there should be a monitoring of the hate mongering politicians for hate speech.

    We really should scratch our heads and figure out how this kind of fascist regime is tolerated in modern Europe?

    Those that think that this treatment of the Roma by the Berlusconi Regime is a good thing probably would agree also that the way Slobodan Milosevic treated Kosovar Albanians was also just and a good thing!

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  22. Hey guys! Before you get your feathers in a bunch, read the fine print. FYI, everybody in Italy will get fingerprinted. Also, I suggest you follow the news LIVE not only reading the news in English only. Their translations are usually not accurate. Hope some of you know at least a little bit of Italian. Here, visit the Italian Parliament:,,1067075,00.html – and here is the link that will take you to the news programs in Italian:

    Just few days ago there were this news all over the place. Original en English from the AP: – then, this from a paper in England: – and this is from Italy: – and here, the original decree: (click on Ordinanza – second page).

    Same is happening with the news you read about the roma. I am afraid that you all are reading the wrong papers/web pages. Have no idea of what the Interior Minister Roberto Maroni wants to achieve with his plans about the roma. Even some of the politicians from the opposition agree with him.

    Have all a good weekend.

  23. Just a gentle reminder: putting more than two URLs in a comment may cause it to be identified as spam. In which case posting may be delayed anywhere from a few hours to forever.

    Doug M.

  24. Clodia, just to tell you that many people really doesn’t like the rough way of this Goverment to deal with minorities and immigratyion. They are passing propaganda measure like the army in the streets that it is only creating together with the wicked propaganda of the parties more and more distance between people and people. And then they want the children to go to school? Absurd. Many people doesn’t want politicians (of both coalitions!) to stop blaming and stamping with the “E” of evil minorities and immigrants and to take seriuos responsibility for all the specific issues of immigrants, and to respect people as individuals and human beings rather than “groups” and “races”. It is a shame for Italy. I hope this Government will end to do what the last Governemtn had started with, the CPTs and regular police in the streets.

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  26. I live in the USA where Mexicans have been pouring over the border virtually unchecked. As the economy is already strained, unemployment and crime is at all-time highs. The system is unable to cope with all of the demands and needs of the poor. The social fabric of an entire region is being changed for the worse. I”m sure the situation is the same in Italy. The Italians have every right to deport anyone who is a non-citizen and thus helping to preserve their way of life. I applaud Italy for at least having the guts to act.

  27. Joe,

    When you mentioned the Mexicans in the US, I was hoping for something less . . . completely ignorant. Before pointing your finger at poor people, and especially “illegal” immigrants, you should take some time to look at the economic system and actually discover where all the money is going. Currently in America there is a greater disparity of wealth between the poor and the rich than there was in feudal England. Why is that, do you think? If the poor people are so poor, they obviously don’t HAVE the money you’re so upset about. They haven’t stolen it (because then they wouldn’t be poor). The US has a trillion dollars to go to war, we have CEOs making 13 million dollar penchants AFTER bankrupting, and our pharmaceutical companies are selling medicine to other countries for less than they charge their own people. Our financial resources are not being sucked away by the “hoards” of poor folk sneaking over the border. It’s floating to the top. The funny part is that the middle class actually believes it when politicians (all of whom reside at the top with all the money) point the finger at illegal immigrants. Furthermore, if you examine capitalism itself you’ll find that the system DEPENDS on cheap labor. If the government (or anyone) actually wanted to do something about this supposed problem they would stop hiring immigrant labor. However, AMERICAN companies are making too much money off of immigrant workers because they don’t have to pay them what they would be forced to pay a “legal” citizen.

    However, in a way, this IS very similar to the situation in the US with Mexican immigrants. Americans like Joe buy into scape-goating nonsense and conveniently distract themselves from the fact that politicians are creating theatrics to distract the public from the real cause of the problem. It strikes me as somewhat amazing that, after hundreds of years of prejudice . . . and hundreds of years of different types of prejudices turning out to be dead wrong, people still resort to ethnicity as an explanation for the world’s problems. When the Irish first came to the US, they were severely mistreated due to prejudice. They were unable to attain jobs due to their background. Therefore, they often resorted to theft, prostitution, and begging IN ORDER TO SURVIVE. I don’t think there’s a single person on this board who can say they would sooner starve to death than steal food, money, etc., much less beg.

    IF there really is a serious problem with theft and begging in the Roma population, it is due to their economic circumstances. In that case, they–like every impoverished population throughout history–have been forced to secure a means of survival outside of legal limitations. So, then, the real issue is why are they forced to circumvent legal means of survival?

    Additionally, where exactly is the Italian government supposed to send them? I keeping hearing about this destination called “where they belong,” but they belong everywhere. They’re nomads. They don’t have a home country, and I highly doubt Britain is going to swoop in and create a Roma version of Israel to fix the problem (which, I might add, created a possibly more serious problem for the Israelies and Palestinians).

    If human beings can build a rocket and land on the moon, I’m sure figuring out some sort of integration plan for a “challenging” community is not beyond the realm of possibility.


    You should listen to the way you sound: “not to mention the children, pulling my clothes with their dirty little hands.”
    You are talking about CHILDREN here. They are dirty for a reason. Please try to think about that. They are focused on you–some boring individual who hates them–rather than playing for a reason. Please try to think about that too. Why are they dirty? Why aren’t they playing? Why aren’t they in school? If there’s a reason they can’t get into regular school, why aren’t they at home LEARNING how to read, write, play instruments, or whatever else? These children are impoverished with no means of bettering their lives, and you’re angry because they touched your clothes with dirty hands? Seriously?

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