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(Washington, D.C.) – Romania's poorest and most disadvantaged citizens, the Roma, are in desperate need of adequate housing that they lack due to the country's legal system, Amnesty International said in a briefing published today.
The briefing entitled, Mind the legal gap: Roma and the right to housing in Romania, documents the stories of Roma individuals and communities across the country and highlights the need for human rights reforms to housing laws.
"Widespread intolerance and prejudice against Roma combined with the lack of adequate housing laws have given local officials carte blanche to openly discriminate against them," said Barbora Cernusakova, Amnesty International's Romania researcher. "The human right to adequate housing is not recognized or adequately protected in Romanian law. This can affect every citizen of Romania, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized."
Some 2 million Roma live in Romania, about 10 percent of the total population. According to government statistics, as many as 75 percent live in poverty, compared to 24 percent of Romanians in general.
Roma rarely own land and property and they are further disadvantaged by the lack of social housing in a country where 97 percent of housing is private.
Although some Roma people live in permanent structures with legal tenancy, the authorities consider many longstanding Romani dwellings as "informal" or illegal because their inhabitants do not have any documentary proof of tenancy. This makes them vulnerable to evictions.
Currently, Romanian law does not protect these people from forced evictions, even though the evictions are considered illegal according to international standards binding Romania.
"When the authorities evict Romani communities against their will, without adequate consultation, notice or alternative housing, they are violating international treaties that the government of Romania has signed up to. This also applies to the resettlement of Romani communities to inadequate and segregated housing," said Cernusakova.
Amnesty International and other NGOs have documented a series of cases where Roma communities had been forcibly evicted and resettled in a way that created or entrenched segregation.
On December 17, 2010, the authorities in Cluj-Napoca, the third largest city in Romania, forcibly evicted 56 Romani families from the city center, where many people had been living for about 25 years.
The community was not given sufficient notice, no consultation was conducted and no feasible alternatives to eviction were explored. Roma were also not given the opportunity to challenge the eviction decision.
"Romani people are not only discriminated against when it comes to housing, they also cannot get justice when they are wronged as, often, they do not have the necessary information and resources to do so," said Cernusakova.
Sixteen families, who had been left homeless as a result of the forced eviction, were allowed to build new dwellings but had not been given contracts that would make the structures legal. An additional 40 families were placed in new housing units on the outskirts of the city, next to those who were building their homes.
The already constructed housing units are located close to the city's garbage dump and a former chemical waste dump. Each housing unit consists of four small rooms occupied by different families that share one bathroom.
"The room is very small; the water from outside is coming through the walls. It is really bad, it is a nightmare," said George, one of the evicted Roma, to Amnesty International. "Whenever my 16-year-old daughter has to change, I have to get out of the room. This is no place to stay with a family. Next to me, there is a family of 13 people, including 11 children, who live in one room.. It is really bad."
The closest bus stop is approximately 2 miles away making it difficult for people to go to school, work or a doctor.
"Local authorities and the government of Romania have been consistently ignoring their human rights obligations towards these people, who were thrown away like garbage, and have for the last seven years been living in inhumane conditions as a result of the municipal action," said Cernusakova.
Amnesty International has been campaigning, together with Bucharest-based NGO Romani CRISS, for justice for this Romani community that was forcibly evicted from the center of Miercurea Ciuc in 2004.
"The Romanian government has so far failed to introduce an effective system that would hold local authorities accountable for non-compliance with human rights treaties to which Romania is a state party," explained Cernusakova. "The envisaged reform of the legislation is an opportunity for the government of Romania to bring its national legal framework on housing in line with international and regional human rights standards. It can also ensure that any funds drawn by local and national budgets or the European Union will not be used for housing projects breaching international human rights standards."
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.
For more information, please visit: www.amnestyusa.org.