EVICTIONS UNLIMITED

The policy of rejection in action

From Finland to France and Italy, from Bulgaria, through Hungary and Serbia to Albania the summer months of 2015 have witnessed an unprecedented upsurge of evictions from Roma settlements, some peaceful, some brutal but always marked by the policy of rejection.

This policy, often euphemistically described as “discrimination,” aims at ‘eliminating’ Roma from the public sphere through various manners, and, most effectively, by depriving them of all forms of housing, thus compromising all possibilities of improvement in their living conditions or their integration.

The recent decision of the mayor of Courneuve to evict all 80 families in the settlement called Place “Samaritaine” is a perfect illustration of this policy. The Fondation Abbé Pierre and Médecins du Monde had proposed a self-funding project to clean up the settlement and install running water, with a view to providing schooling for children and employment.

The mayor refused the project and the settlement has now been demolished. He has chosen to put a stop to a project that provides possibilities of integration. Once all 80 families are homeless, politicians can now safely say that the Roma do not want to be integrated.

This is but one example of what Françoise Dumont, chairperson of the French Ligue de Droits de l’Homme has described as the “policy of stigmatizing and rejecting the Roma.” In France, during the first six months of 2015, no less than 3947 Roma have been forcibly evicted from their homes in 37 separate locations, an average of 150 per week, with alternative accommodation offered only in 13 cases.

Evictions are justified on the pretext that the settlement is illegal, is unhygienic, in a dangerous locality or earmarked for development. In most cases the reasons are a camouflage for a more sinister purpose: getting rid of the Roma at all costs.

The decision taken last July to demolish Roma houses in Garmen in Bulgaria is a case in point. Illegal constructions are common in Bulgaria, but Roma houses are singled out for destruction. The European Court of Human Rights has meanwhile issued urgent interim measures to “stop the demolitions, until alternative housing is secured for the vulnerable claimant” but the non-Roma majority is now insisting that the demolition should go on nonetheless. The conflict will help politicians to reassure their non-Roma electorate prior to local elections in October.

In Belgrade, about 130 Roma have been threatened with eviction from the neighbourhood of Grmec…. to build a railway station. No alternative accommodation was planned but, following an application to the European Court of Human Rights, the authorities have guaranteed that they will not proceed with the eviction until alternative accommodation has been provided to the families.

In Albania, in Selita, about 80 families are being evicted…. to build a highway. There is no official decision for the demolition and many families have received no prior notification. The process of legalization of the houses concerned, started 9 years ago, has been suspended. This will enable the demolition without compensation. The authorities have agreed to provide a rent subsidy for two years as a form of compensation. What happens after 2 years is nobody’s business.

In Italy, the “eviction campaign” is a nationwide clean-up operation:

  • in Quaracchi, 10 Roma families have been evicted on 24 July from an area they had inhabited since 2008 – no alternative accommodation has been offered
  • In Cosenza, 100 Roma are to be evicted from a building and relocated to an official segregated camp
  • In Municipality No 3, in the Lazio, the inhabitants of a settlement at Ponte delle Valli were evicted on 6 August, and all the metal they had collected was confiscated. They were left homeless in the street.

Reasons for the evictions? Cleaning up the areas.
In Italy the options for the Roma are simple – the street or a segregated camp.
In Finland dismantling illegal camps occupied by Roma in and around Helsinki is, at the moment, a daily routine, according to news server yle.fi. The occupants are simply thrown out and no alternative accommodation is offered.
In Hungary, the Miskolc town council is more straightforward in its approach. It has asked all the Roma residents in a particular neighbourhood to leave their residence against compensation and promise not to come back before 5 years. Those that refused are being threatened with eviction. The town council is, in all honesty, telling the Roma that they are not wanted in Miskolc now or for the next five years. International, national and local organizations condemn, complain and threaten – and then silence, and evictions continue unabated.

But for how long are the Roma themselves going to remain silent?
We call on the Roma not to accept these constant humiliations. We call on them to resist, demonstrate, go to Court, denounce violations publicly, name and shame the violators be they public authorities or private individuals.
Do not accept to be treated like chattels.

EVICTIONS – PLEASING THE MASSES AND GETTING RE-ELECTED

The spate of evictions which we witnessed all over Europe during the summer season has not abated as winter sets in. The sufferings of women, children and sick people left out in the cold winter weather, the disruption of schooling and the resulting psychological trauma are no consideration for several mayors throughout Europe, whose main objective is to please the populace and get re-elected.

On 20 October, in the early hours of the morning the Turin police threw out the Roma inhabitants of a shanty town and demolished 12 of the barracks. 30 persons were left homeless in temperatures of 4 to 5 degrees centigrade. The demolition of this shanty town has been going on, little by little, for two years. 35 families – around a hundred individuals – are still living there but are threatened with the same fate in the next few days.Meanwhile 5 million euros intended for settling these Roma seem to have disappeared in the coffers of a number of associations responsible for managing their settlement.

We witness the same scenario in France where 40 million euros given by the European Commission for projects on Roma insertion were returned to the Commission for lack of projects or, to put it in simpler terms, for lack of interest and commitment on the part of the local or regional authorities. The President of the Ile de France has now had the courage take an initiative to manage the situation of 7124 Roms living in 132 shanty towns in his Region. He declared in all honesty “Seven thousand persons for a region like the Ile de France, which has a population of 12 million, is not an invasion, is not a problem to solve but a situation to manage, which is totally within our reach.”

No such initiative in Bulgaria where mayors are accelerating evictions to please voters in upcoming elections.In Garmen, in Bulgaria, the demolition of Roma homes goes on relentlessly. So far 10 families have lost their homes but 124 houses are earmarked for demolition. The mayor has shamelessly stated that she wants 16 more Roma homes demolished before the municipal elections on 25 October. Similar demolitions are taking place in Varna, Stara Zagora, Dupnitsa and Peshtera, all in the run-up to municipal elections. The principle followed by these mayors is not to improve the living conditions of the Roma and encourage social cohesion in their municipality but to play up to racists and ensure re-election.

The Deputy Prime Minister of the Czech Republic has recently had the courage to put in question this policy of following the wishes of the masses. In an interview to news server Romea cz, the Deputy Prime Minister said that on topics such as refugees and Roma “a responsible politician must also go against ‘the voice of the people.’” “Yes” he added, “there is a need to stand up to the majority irrespective of the fact that they are the voters. The truth cannot be voted against.”

That statement should be stuck on the door of every mayor and minister in every country in Europe.

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Expulsions – plaire au peuple pour être réélu

La recrudescence d’expulsions à laquelle nous avons assisté en Europe pendant l’été  n’a pas ralenti maintenant que nous entrons dans l’hiver. Les souffrances des femmes, enfants et personnes vulnérables, abandonnés au froid hivernal, les scolarités interrompues and le traumatisme psychologique qu’elles entraînent n’entrent apparemment pas en considération de plusieurs maires d’Europe, dont l’objectif principal est de satisfaire la masse et d’être réélu.

Le 20 octobre 2015, dès les premières heures de la matinée, la police de Turin a mis dehors les habitants roms d’un bidonville et a démoli 12 des baraquements. 30 personnes se sont retrouvées sans domicile, par des températures allant de 4 à 5 degrés.
La démolition du bidonville avait commencé, petit à petit, il y a deux ans. 35 familles – environ 100 personnes – y vivent encore mais sont menacées du même sort dans les jours à venir. Pendant ce temps, cinq millions d’euros destinés à l’installation de ces Roms semblent avoir disparus des coffres de plusieurs associations chargées de gérer leur réimplantation.

Nous assistons au même scénario en France, où 40 millions d’euros provenant de la Commission européenne pour des projets sur l’insertion des Roms ont été renvoyés à la Commission pour cause de manque de projets, ou, en d’autres termes, à cause du manque d’intérêt et d’engagement de la part des autorités locales et régionales. Le Président de la région Île de France a enfin eu le courage de prendre des initiatives pour améliorer la situation de 7 124 Roms qui vivent dans 132 bidonvilles dans sa région. Ila déclaré en toute honnêteté « 7000 personnes pour une région comme Île de France, qui a une population de 12 millions, ce n’est pas une invasion, ce n’est pas un problème à régler mais une situation à gérer, qui est totalement dans nos cordes ».

Aucune initiative de ce genre en Bulgarie où les maires accélèrent les expulsions pour satisfaire les électeurs de ces prochaines élections. A Garmen, en Bulgarie, la démolition des maisons roms continuent sans répit. Jusque là, 10 familles ont perdu leur maison et 124 autres sont assignées pour la destruction. La maire a déclaré, sans honte, qu’elle voulait 16 maisons roms démolies en plus avant les élections du 25 octobre. Des destructions similaires ont lieu in Varna, Dupnitsa et Pesthera, dans la course aux élections municipales. Le principe que suivent ces maires n’est pas d’améliorer les conditions de vie des Roms ou d’encourager la cohésion sociale, mais de faire appel aux idées racistes pour assurer leur réélection.

Le Vice-Premier Ministre de la République Tchèque a récemment eu le courage de mettre en question cette politique de suivi des vœux de la masse. Dans une interview à la plateforme d’information Romea.cz, le Vice-Premier Ministre a dit que sur les sujets tels que les réfugiés et les Roms, « un homme politique responsable doit aussi savoir aller contre « la voix du peuple » ». « Oui », a-t-il ajouté, « il est nécessaire de s’opposer à la majorité quand bien même ce sont des électeurs. On ne peut pas voter contre la vérité ».

Cette déclaration devrait être collée sur la porte de chaque maire et ministre, de chaque pays d’Europe.

ERTF CALL ON ALL NGOS TO BOYCOTT THE UNITED FOR CULTURAL ACTION CAMPAIGN

United for Cultural Action has called for a campaign to mark 9 November as the International Day against Fascism and Antisemitism – a praiseworthy initiative if it were not tainted by a limited and subjective view of the victims of Fascism.

Six million Jews perished in the Holocaust but five million others were exterminated by the Nazis, amongst them half a million Roma, and thousands of homosexuals, Witnesses of Jehovah and other deemed to be inferior beings. This call ignores that seventy years after the extermination of the Roma, few countries officially recognise this barbaric act as the crime of genocide. Seventy years after the end of the Second World War the Roma are still marginalised, discriminated against, confined to ghettoes, refused employment, education and health services. All inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations agree that the Roma are today the most marginalised and most oppressed community in Europe. And yet, in a campaign against fascism and right wing extremism no mention is made of 10 million Roma persecuted today throughout Europe.

After 1945 the people of Europe were united by a common message: Never Again. But this did not apply to the Roma. Not only do many European countries refuse to recognise the crime of genocide of the Roma: they continue to treat them as inferior beings not worthy of attention. The absence of any mention in the call for the campaign of the Roma and of the permanent discrimination they suffer in all walks of life unfortunately comforts those countries that are responsible for their discrimination. It discredits the campaign and is an insult to the Roma that died in the genocide and all those that are still sufferng to this day

The ERTF is unable to support or participate in a campaign that ignores the most discriminated community in Europe and follows itself a discriminatory agenda. We call on all NGOs to boycott it.

The European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF) will take part in the 10th meeting of the Ad hoc Committee of Experts for Roma Issues (CAHROM) organised by the Council of Europe on 27th – 30th of October 2015 un Bucharest, Romania.

The focus of the meeting will be on the situation of Roma in Europe and recent policy developments at national level in the fields of forced marriages and human trafficking, the role of local and regional authorities for Roma inclusion, thematic priorities for 2016/17, Roma youth and the recent developments at the international level.

ERTF will provide an update on the situation of the Roma in Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Turkey, as well as the ERTF papers on the gender dimension within the National Roma Integration Strategies and the introduction to the latest developments regarding the “Forgotten voices “ and the “Participation of Roma women in politics” projects.

WE SHOULD ALL AVOID FUTURE REPRODUCTION OF A VERY NARROW IMAGE OF THE ROMA AND SINTI

Strasbourg, 6 November 2015: In a letter addressed to His Holiness the Pope the President of the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF) Mr Gheorghe Raducanu welcomes his recent initiatives to combat discrimination and racism against Roma, Sinti and Travellers, but regrets that some of his well-intentioned remarks are likely to have a negative effect on the majority population.

“Asking the audience to be good Christians “avoiding all that is not worthy of this name: lies, frauds, swindles, altercation”, is excellent advice to be addressed to all Christians but, in the context of an audience with Roma and Sinti, this advice seems to be addressed exclusively to them. There is undoubtedly, amongst the Roma and Sinti, individuals who are not worthy of the name “Christian” but no more than in other communities.” said the President of the ERTF in its letter.

Equally unfortunate was the Pope’s advice to the Roma on education: “your children have the right to go to school, do not prevent them from doing so.” Such a statement disregards the difficulties which Roma parents face in the education of their children: segregated schools, segregated classes, refusal to take children in ordinary schools, bullying of Roma children in class, lack of transport from the settlement to the school, lack of money to buy school material or lunch at the school – just to mention a few and instead puts the entire blame on the parents.

By so doing, the Pope unwittingly encourages further marginalisation and discrimination of Roma by those who will use his statement to justify their racism.We regret that this advice can be interpreted as blaming the victims of marginalization rather than the authorities who are responsible for this state of affairs.

Likewise, when the Pope asks the Roma and Sinti not to “give the media and public opinion reason to speak ill” of them, it sounds that it is legitimate for the media and public opinion to speak ill of the Roma and Sinti.

The Pope missed the opportunity to celebrate their contribution to good Christian living in their communities. He could have celebrated the historical contributions of Romani people to Christianity and reminded them that there are also Romani saints. He could have offered an apology for the persecution and witch hunts of Romani people since the Middle Ages.t. Such a message, captured by the media, would have spread good will among both Roma and non-Roma and would have made this event a major success.

Instead, what they got was chastisement, and that is what the media reported. He should instead have chastised the members of his universal church who are actively preventing Romani children from going to school. He could have brought attention to those who are actively keeping Romani children away from their parents.
Unfortunately we did not hear any message of hope or inspiration or a criticism of the treatment of poverty, regardless of the national origin of the poor. Nor did we hear a condemnation of Anti-gypsyism which is at the root of all these problems.

Instead of singling them out the Pope should have made a call for solidarity among Christians, both Roma and non-Roma.

We wholeheartedly support the Catholic Church’s efforts in favour of the integration of Roma and extend our cooperation towards building peaceful and pluralist societies where Roma and Sinti are respected and treated as full citizens. We would however greatly appreciate that official statements and initiatives are well-informed of all the complexities involved. The Catholic Church seems to be unaware of the heterogeneity of the Roma world, that the word “gypsy” is considered as pejorative by most communities, and that the overwhelming majority of Roma, Sinti and affiliated groups are sedentary.