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Living by a sewage works - life for Roma people in Europe

I was unlucky enough to have a summer job when I was around 19 that involved rebuilding part of a sewage works. It wasn’t my worst-ever summer job – that was the meat pie factory – but it wasn’t a barrel of laughs either. While I did get to realise a boyhood dream of driving a dumper truck, some of the other tasks were pretty horrific. Standing waist-deep in sewage while fixing a sluice gate is a memory that will stay with me for a while, even longer than the lingering stench. And it really did stink.

Why this trip down memory lane? We’ve got a report out today that tells the story of a group of Roma families who were forcibly evicted from their homes in a dilapidated building in the town of Miercurea Ciuc, Romania, and made to live in metal cabins behind a sewage works. The move was supposedly temporary – but it happened in 2004 and they’re still there. The area’s deemed unfit for human habitation and there’s even a sign on the gate to the compound warning “Danger of poisoning”, as little kids run around and play.  

The report graphically illustrates the kind of discrimination that Roma people across Europe are still facing every day – whether it’s in terms of education in the Czech Republic, forced evictions in Italy or, as this report reveals, housing in Romania.

The metal shacks aren’t big enough for the families to sleep comfortably or have any privacy. They have no hot water and they flood when it rains heavily. There are only four toilet cubicles for all 75 people. And then there’s the smell. One resident, Ilana, said:

“The houses fill up with that smell. At night also… the children cover their faces with
the pillows. We don’t want to eat when we [sense] the smell… I used to have another
child, a boy, who died when he was four months old… This is why I am frightened. I
don’t want to lose the rest of my children…”

Another, Regina, told Amnesty:

“The smell, sometimes you can smell it over the city as well. That is why it says on that sign ‘Infected area’, but they don’t care about it, they say, you are Roma, you die there.”

Adequate housing is a basic human right. People have a right to health. And forced evictions, without proper consultation and safeguards, are illegal. A group of NGOs are trying to help the families by bringing a complaint before the European Court of Human Rights – they have used up all appeals to national bodies in Romania and got nowhere.  If you want to help, download the report here, where you’ll find the addresses of bodies to write to in Romania.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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