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Legal gap

June 23, 2011

A report by Amnesty International finds that the Roma minority in Romania lacks legal protection from forced evictions, and that Roma families are often left in sub-standard housing conditions with no chance for redress.

A Romani man and woman
Roma are one of the largest minorities in RomaniaImage: Amnesty International

Romania's legal system has failed to prevent a pattern of forced evictions for Roma, leaving them in sub-standard housing next to garbage dumps and sewage plants, according to a report published by Amnesty International on Thursday.

"The human right to adequate housing is not recognized or adequately protected in Romanian law," Amnesty researcher Barbora Cernusakova told a press conference in Bucharest. "This can affect every citizen, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized ones."

The report, entitled "Mind the Legal Gap: Roma and the Right to Housing in Romania," cites a number of cases in recent years in which Roma families were forced out of their homes and sent to "temporary" housing units on the margins of society, or left homeless.

In one such case, some 75 Roma were evicted from a building in the center of Miercurea Ciuc, about 260 kilometers (162 miles) north of Bucharest, in June 2004. According to the report, "local authorities resettled them in metal cabins next to the city's sewage plant on the outskirts of the city," where they are still living today.

Dilapidated housing occupied by Roma in Romania
Roma are often pushed into inadequate housing, the report findsImage: Amnesty International

Lacking legal framework

The root of the problem of inadequate housing for Roma lies in Romanian law, the report says.

While legislation defines physical requirements for housing, it does not refer to location, such as "access to health care services, education, employment and other social services - or proximity to hazardous environments." Where the courts or anti-discrimination bodies should provide Roma with a means of redress, these systems lack the power to hold the government accountable.

Fotis Filippou, a Romania expert with Amnesty International, said another problem was that segregation was not prohibited by law.

"As a result, a lot of these resettlements took place in segregated areas, or with intention by local authorities to segregate Roma on the outskirts of cities," he told Deutsche Welle.

Filippou added that local and national authorities often take no responsibility for the housing problems that Roma face - which may be related to the widespread discrimination against the minority.

"Often housing is not seen as something that authorities have the responsibility to deal with," he said. "It is definitely not seen as a human right... We have often felt that authorities do not feel that there's an obligation to these people."

Roma family evicted from their house
Roma are three times more likely to live in poverty than the average RomanianImage: Amnesty International

Europe-wide problem

Roma in Romania constitute one of the largest Roma communities in Europe. Estimates of the population range from 535,000 to two million. Amnesty International cites government statistics as saying that up to 75 percent of Roma live in poverty, compared with 24 percent of the general population.

Data collected by human rights groups show that some 5,000 Roma have been evicted over the last few years, according to the Roma rights group Romani CRISS.

Filippou said the discrimination against Roma is not unique to Romania, but that it occurs across Europe and in various areas of life, not just access to housing.

"This is something that the Romanian government must address," he said. "At the same time, what is necessary is not just a change of mentality, but a change in policy and concrete measures for Roma people to be able to enjoy access to services, and to be able to get out of the cycle of poverty and marginalization."

Author: Andrew Bowen
Editor: Susan Houlton