Pushing Romania to see housing as a human right

By Barbora Cernusakova, Researcher in the EU Team, and Fotis Filippou, Campaigner in the EU Team

In a few hours, we will leave Romania after spending two and a half weeks researching the housing conditions of Roma. We visited 11 communities in five towns in the eastern and northern part of the country.

Across the different counties we saw segregated housing, inadequate living conditions and people living in fear of being forcibly evicted. We visited people living in a former chicken farm, in buildings and shacks situated in industrial areas of towns – next to sewage plants, garbage dumps or piles of bauxite. We spoke to people who had no access to water and sanitation facilities; to people who had to walk kilometers to access schools, employment and health services. We spoke to a woman in front of the ruins of her house three weeks after she was forcibly evicted from it and authorities demolished it. In all of the cases we visited, the inhumane conditions in which people lived, were a result of either an action or lack of action by the local authorities.

During our meetings with local authorities, we understood that in Romania the right to housing is not seen as a human right that everybody – regardless of their social background or ethnicity – is entitled to. It is rather seen as a commodity that has its price. If you are not able to afford it, or access it as a result of – let’s say – discrimination, tough luck. By law and in practice, the right to housing is not recognized or protected, despite the fact the fact that Romania has voluntarily signed up to international and regional human rights standards protecting the right to housing for all without discrimination.

On 18 April in Miercurea Ciuc, together with the members of the local Romani community we handed over 36,500 letters to the local authorities. These were the letters of individual Amnesty International activists calling on the town’s leaders to listen to the voices of the Romani families that were forcibly evicted in 2004 and placed on a plot of land on Primaveri Street next to the town’s sewage treatment plant, supposedly as a temporary measure. This June, approximately 75 Roma, including families with children, will mark seven years of having lived there. Following our action, the response by the local authorities was inadequate and they failed to make any concrete commitment to address the housing situation of the community in question.

It was the local authorities who forcibly evicted these people and moved them next to the sewage plant. So it is the local authorities that have to take urgent measures and consult the Romani community on Primaveri Street in order to provide them with adequate housing at a safe location. It is the responsibility of both the local and central government authorities to ensure that everybody can live in dignity and enjoy their human right to adequate housing.

It’s possible the local authorities in Miercurea Ciuc did not appreciate thousands of individuals from around the world taking action to pressure and criticize them. But the members of the Romani community did. During our two day visit, we discussed with the community Amnesty International’s campaign and future steps. In the evening, we screened two movies produced by Amnesty International that capture the life and aspirations of a child and a young couple living next to the sewage plant. The members of the community featured in the film were very proud and touched to see themselves on the large screen. This is their appeal to the world. They thanked Amnesty International activists and asked them to continue campaigning and supporting their struggle to access justice.

We’ll continue telling Romanian authorities, “housing is a human right”.