ERRC Complaint to Hungarian Minority Ombudsman in Housing Discrimination Case
5 August 2004
Racial discrimination in housing in Bicske, Hungary
On 4 August 2004, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) filed a complaint with the Hungarian Parliamentary Commissioner for the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities concerning a Romani refugee from Kosovo, which appears to have been the victim of racial discrimination while attempting to build a family house in the town of Bicske.
On 10 April 1998, Mr. B., together with his wife and five children, fled from Kosovo to Hungary. The entire family applied for refugee status, which they obtained in February 2002. In December 2002, Mr. B. received an interest-free loan in the amount of 1,500,000 Hungarian forints from the Refugee Department of the Hungarian Ministry of Interior in order to buy a house for himself and his family. On 29 October 2002, Mr. B. purchased a house in Bicske, built on a 225 square-metre plot of land. The family moved into the house in February 2003. Since it was obvious from the outset that the house was in a very bad state and that renovation would not be an option, Mr. B. decided to demolish it and to build a new one on the same plot. Experts contacted by Mr. B. stated that the house, as well as most of the others in this area, was practically beyond repair and potentially hazardous to live in, and that it would be cheaper to build a new one rather then to attempt comprehensive renovation. In May, the B. family turned to an architect, who examined the house and then went to the Bicske local government to inquire about the relevant formal requirements for the reconstruction. The architect was told that based on Article 7, Section 7 of local government decree 22/2004 of 1 April 2004, it was illegal, in this particular part of the city, to acquire permission to build a new house on a plot of only 225 square metres, and that the minimum requirement was 350 square metres. On or around 7 July, Mrs. B. went to the self-government personally, together with the architect and two interpreters, to verify this information and was told the same.
After Mr. B. contacted the ERRC, we obtained a copy of the decree in question and spoke with two responsible people from the Building Authority of the Bicske self-government. In response to our specific inquiry regarding the decree at issue, we were informed that the Bicske self-government intends to change the appearance of the entire area now referred to as the "Garden City". When the ERRC requested clarification, we were reluctantly told "You know, there is the Gypsy kindergarten there now", the implication being that Mr. B's house was located in what is currently a Romani part of town. Mr. B. confirmed that his house is indeed in the "Romani neighborhood", where almost everyone lives on small plots of land and in very poor housing conditions.
In view of the above, the ERRC respectfully submits that the local government decree in question was adopted with a view to gradually coercing Roma into leaving this part of Bicske. Or, alternatively, even if this was not the underlying motivation, that the consequences of the adoption of this decree will be the same. Namely, most of the Romani residents of the area live on small plots and in dangerously inadequate housing. As explained, for those who would have the means to do so, it would be cheaper to build new houses rather than renovate old ones. However, only those Roma who own plots consisting of 350 square metres or more would actually be able to do so. All others -- the overwhelming majority -- are de facto condemned to inadequate housing and dangerous living conditions and would likely have no other option but eventually to relocate.
This situation appears to be in violation of numerous legal standards concerning the right to adequate housing, the right to respect for one's home, private and family life, the right to freely chose one's place of residence and the right to equality (non-discrimination), as guaranteed in the Hungarian Constitution and the newly adopted Anti-Discrimination Act, as well as in international instruments such as the European Union Race Equality Directive, European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
For additional details regarding the complaint. Please contact Rita Izsák, ERRC Legal Monitor (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone:+36-1-413-2200) and/or Anita Danka ERRC Paralegal (e-mail: email@example.com, phone:+36-1-413-2200).