Romania must end forced evictions of Roma families

We are gypsies and that is why they don’t listen to us

 Monika, May 2009

The Romanian authorities must stop the forced eviction of Roma families and immediately relocate those living for years in hazardous conditions next to waste dumps, sewage treatment plants or industrial areas on the outskirts of cities, Amnesty International said today.

“Across the country Roma families are being evicted from their homes against their will. When this happens, they don’t just lose their homes. They lose their possessions, their social contacts, their access to work and state services,” said Halya Gowan, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director.

“This pattern of forced evictions, without adequate consultation, adequate notice or adequate alternative housing, perpetuates racial segregation and violates Romania’s international obligations.”

In its briefing, Treated like waste: Roma homes destroyed, and health at risk, in Romania, Amnesty International tells the story of one particular mass eviction to highlight the terrible conditions endured by the Roma.

In 2004, more than 100 Roma, including families with young children, were forcibly evicted by municipal authorities from a building in the centre of Miercurea Ciuc – the capital city of Harghita County in central Romania.

Most were resettled by the authorities in metal cabins on the outskirts of the town, behind a sewage treatment plant. Some decided to move to a nearby waste dump, rather than live next to the sewage plant.

Erszebet, who lives next to the sewage treatment plant with her husband and nine children, told Amnesty International what life is like in a metal cabin: “It is tight, when the whole family goes to sleep we don’t fit in. We cannot take a bath; we cannot clean ourselves. It is too small. We don’t want the older girls to take a bath in front of their father.” 

The temporary metal cabins and shacks are close to the sewage treatment plant, falling within the 300-metre protection zone established by Romanian law to separate homes from potential toxic hazards. The failure to protect the right to health is another violation of Romania’s national and international obligations.

Ilana told Amnesty International: “The houses fill up with that smell. At night… the children cover their faces with the pillows. We don’t want to eat when we feel the smell… I used to have another child who died when he was four months old… I don’t want to lose the rest of my children.”

“The ordeal of the Roma families has continued for six years. Now is the time for the local authorities to provide them with adequate housing close to services and facilities in a safe and healthy location,” Halya Gowan said.

“Something needs to happen now. An example must be set – forced evictions must be stopped and the right to housing must be guaranteed. And this can and should be done by the authorities of Miercurea Ciuc.”

Amnesty International calls on the government of Romania to reform its housing legislation to incorporate international human rights standards with particular attention to housing.

Background There are almost 2.2 million Roma in Romania – making up about 10 per cent of the total population. As a result of widespread discrimination, both by public officials and society at large, as 75 per cent of Roma live in poverty, as opposed to 24 per cent of Romanians and 20 per cent of ethnic Hungarians, the largest minority in Romania. The levels of physical health and living conditions of the Roma are among the worst in the country.

Although some Roma people live in permanent structures with legal tenancy, many other long-standing Romani dwellings are considered by the government as “temporary” and unofficial, and their inhabitants do not have any proof of tenancy, which increases their vulnerability to eviction.

Forced evictions violate Romania’s international and regional legal standards such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights that require all people to have a minimum degree of security of tenure, guaranteeing them legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats.