By Barbora Cernusakova and Catrinel Motoc, Amnesty International’s EU Team
After five months we returned to the city of Cluj – Napoca, in North Western Romania and visited the community forcibly evicted in December 2010. We met again with the inspiring people who have tirelessly fought this injustice ever since.
On a number of times they have addressed the local authority with their requests to provide them with adequate access to water, electricity and sewerage. They also requested formalization of the land on which they constructed improvised housing. They have participated in public demonstrations and established a committee that represents them.
For two winters now, 76 families, the majority Roma, have subsisted near a landfill site and a chemical dump on the outskirts of Cluj-Napoca.
Some live in ‘modular housing’ (one level housing blocks consisting of four rooms, each inhabited by one family, sharing one bathroom), others in improvised shacks.
Before then, they lived in Coastei Street in the centre of the city, and were forced to relocate by the local authorities to the outskirts of Cluj-Napoca.
On warm days, an unpleasant smell from the dumps fills the air.
Apart from the isolation from the city, the evictees suffer a number of other problems in their “new housing”.
47 families live in overcrowded rooms in modular houses, with no warm water, no adequate sanitation, separated from the city’s sight and life.
29 families were not offered any alternative accommodation. The municipality verbally agreed that they could use the land above the modular houses.
Although they managed to construct improvised homes there, they have no access to electricity, water, or sanitation.
Moreover, because they lack any formal title to the land, they live in daily fear that they might lose their homes.
One of those who were left homeless after the forced eviction is Mr. Aladár. He stayed in a rented accommodation for the first few weeks, and then managed to assemble some construction material and with the help of a few young Roma people put together four walls and a simple roof.
His home has no floor to protect him from cold, dump and rats. A small desk next to his bed is covered by books and his walls are decorated by simple antique pictures. “I am selling old books,“ he explains, “But after they evicted us, I got a new ID which says ‘lipsa spatiu’, ‘without a domicile’.” As a result, he cannot register his small business and works outside the law.
All the inhabitants of the “New Pata Rat” share the view that the forced eviction and the relocation to the outskirts of the city is a regression to the situation 100 years ago.
The families told us that for the children life in New Pata Rat is even harsher. Because the area is isolated from the city, the only regular transportation is the school bus that leaves at 7.15 in the morning and gets back at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
As a result, some of the children were forced to quit extracurricular activities, otherwise the only option for them to come back home would be a public bus that would drop them some 3 km away from home.
In the course of four days the families shared with us their thoughts and stories of their continued fight for justice. They are ready to work with the municipality to ensure that their immediate and long term housing needs will be addressed and their dignity will be restored.
Although the representatives of the evicted families have addressed the municipality with their problems repeatedly, on 19 March, they discussed the issues with the mayor in person for the first time. The meeting was also attended by the activists from the Working Group of Civil Organisations (gLOC) and a delegate of Amnesty International.Together they informed the mayor about the inadequate housing conditions in the New Pata Rat.
They were told one of their requests, to extend the bus service, was allegedly met with resistance by the residents of the nearby neighbourhood. The activists expressed concerns that such justification disregards the rights of the inhabitants of Pata Rat who are also the citizens of Cluj-Napoca.
Living in Para Rat entails an unpleasant stigma in Cluj-Napoca. The evictees from Coastei Street want to be moved to another location that would allow them to return to the life they had before the eviction, one in which they are part of the city, where they do not fear for their own and their children’s health and live dignified lives as members of Romanian society.
Listening to their stories makes us realize how little the authorities have done to address the human rights consequences of the forced eviction they carried out. The community will not stop fighting and nor should we. Support the call for justice of the Roma community forcibly evicted from Coastei Street by taking action.