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Stop chasing Roma. Start including them.

Human Rights Comment
Strasbourg 22/11/2012
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Evictions of Roma are on the rise in Europe

In recent years, the situation of Roma has been largely debated in Europe. However, this attention for the situation of the most discriminated minority in Europe has not been matched by much concrete action by governments. European countries continue too often to resort to old methods of dealing with this pressing human rights issue, as the increasing evictions of thousands of Roma throughout Europe show.

In France close to 5 000 Roma have reportedly been evicted from their settlements between July and September 2012. The inter-ministerial circular released last August requesting that authorities provide the evicted persons with adequate alternative housing has in most cases not brought any relief to the families concerned, who are often left to sleep rough in Paris, Marseille and other French cities.

In Italy, forced evictions continued, despite the government’s commitment to stopping the “nomad emergency” policy. Only last September in Rome, 250 persons were evicted without being offered any alternative other than moving to ethnically segregated settlements.

In the Czech Republic, Roma families were evicted in the summer of 2012 from run-down buildings in Ostrava in which they had lived for many years. They were relocated to residential hotels considered by social services to be unsuitable for children. The frequent evictions of Roma from public housing in some Czech regions have led many Roma families to lead a de facto itinerant life against their will.

In Belgrade, Serbia, 1 000 Roma were forcibly evicted in April 2012 from the settlement of Belvil. Some of them had to move to other cities, and others were relocated into containers in the periphery of Belgrade, with no access to work, health and other basic services.

In the United Kingdom, Travellers who were evicted from their own land in Dale Farm, Essex, in October 2011 have again been served with eviction notices. They are now being asked to leave the private roadside settlement they have been occupying since their eviction. They say that they have nowhere else to go and fear the approaching winter.

The vicious circle of evictions should stop

Evictions disassociated from any integration and social protection plan are ineffective. Chasing away Roma does not bring a long-term solution to the exclusion and abject poverty in which many of them live. Many of these evictions are contrary to international human rights standards, which provide for specific safeguards in cases of evictions, including adequate alternative accommodation and access to legal remedies. In particular, the European Social Charter sets precise obligations for state parties with regard to housing, access to health care and social services and, in this context, protection of the rights of children.

Moreover, evictions are counter-productive as they often seriously disrupt the schooling of Roma children, which is an essential element for integration. They also hamper the efforts of those who provide basic health care to the Roma, for instance through vaccination campaigns.

The excessive use of force by police has been reported in many evictions. Moreover, some media and politicians have used evictions to fuel prejudices and anti-Roma feelings in the population. Groups of evicted Roma have faced demonstrations of hostility, and sometimes violence, from neighbours in places where they have been displaced.

Time to move away from repressive policies

Combating deep-rooted anti-Roma prejudice and discrimination should be a priority, as it is a major obstacle to any progress towards Roma inclusion. Politicians and decision-makers should in particular stop using rhetoric that stigmatises Roma, including Roma migrants.

European countries should shift their focus from repressive measures to integration strategies. Good practices that exist in certain European states should be further developed and shared.

One of the most urgent steps to be undertaken is to find adequate solutions to the housing needs of Roma. The right to adequate housing is indeed a precondition for the enjoyment of many other human rights. States should therefore invest in the development of safe and affordable housing solutions for Roma, in close consultation with them.

Housing programmes and practices that result in forced segregation are in violation of the principle of non-discrimination and can never be regarded as a viable solution, as past experiences have shown.

Evictions should never happen if there is no adequate and affordable alternative accommodation.

The root causes of Roma migration, which include institutionalised discrimination, segregation, repression and poverty in their countries of origin, should also be addressed. These goals concern us all: local and national governments, international organisations and civil society.

These evictions are not only costly and ineffective, but they are above all inhumane. They should be ended and replaced by effective integration policies, which would have beneficial consequences not only for the Roma families concerned, but for society as a whole.

Nils Muižnieks