Horizontal Rule

Roma in Moldova: On the Edge of Existence

7 May 2002

Nicolae Radiţa1

The community of Schinoasa is situated several kilometres off a highway near the town of Tibirica in the Republic of Moldova. With a history of more than 100 years, Schinoasa is populated by approximately 70 families, comprising about 400 Roma.2 Within the community, family size varies between two and seven members per family. The Romani community at Schinoasa lives in extremely impoverished conditions, and these have worsened in recent years.

Before 1970, during the period of communist rule, Schinoasa was a small village, without a mayor, but with a representative on the local council in Tibirica. Until this time, Schinoasa was an autonomous community. In 1970, Schinoasa was annexed by Tibirica administratively. At that time, the land in and around Schinoasa and the agricultural “kolkhoz” (collective), the main employer in Schinoasa, was taken over by the Tibirica authorities. Through the kolkhoz, most of the residents of Schinoasa earned their livelihood. In 1992, however, collective administration of the land came to an end with privatisation. The land formerly constituting the kolkhoz at Schinoasa was dispersed mostly among residents of Tibirica. Very few residents from Schinoasa (approximately five or six)3 received land during privatisation, and the process as a whole was reportedly plagued by corruption and discrimination. Additionally, today there is no longer a Romani representative on the local council of Tibirica. With no land, no local representation, and no new employment opportunities available, the situation of the Roma at Schinoasa began to deteriorate rapidly. The following is an outline of the situation of this community today.

Housing

Located off the main highway to Tibirica, Schinoasa is a community existing in isolation from the outside world. Along the highway, there are no signs to indicate the existence of a community anywhere in the vicinity. The road that leads to the Romani community was, at the time of my visit there, in very poor condition. It was not paved, making it difficult for vehicles to enter and leave the community. Upon visiting Schinoasa, it became apparent that not one member of the community owned a vehicle, or had access to one, making travel to neighbouring towns and villages very difficult.

There are approximately 50 to 60 houses in Schinoasa. The houses in the community are all small and overpopulated. Each building houses between two and three families. Most of the houses in the community are one-room shacks. Many of the windows in the houses have no glass panes, and if these exist, they are frequently broken. In some cases, pieces of cardboard have been placed in the windows where the glass is missing. Such attempts to keep out the wind and rain also block out the light. Particularly during the winter, this has deleterious effects on the health of the residents of Schinoasa.

The houses in the settlement do not have heating systems. Most of the houses contain wood-burning stoves, which could be used for heating, but for the most part local Roma do not have access to wood to use to heat their homes. Schinoasa Roma do not own the forests surrounding the community, from which they might collect wood for heating. Taking wood from the surrounding forests is a crime, and residents face administrative fines and even incarceration should they be caught. In one such case, in the Spring of 2000, Mr Cozma P., a 40-year-old Romani man, was sentenced to four months imprisonment after being caught chopping down three small trees in a nearby forest.

Within the settlement, sanitary facilities are minimal. In the houses, there are no toilets and no water supply. Nor were any latrines visible in the community during my visit there in August 2001. Local authorities assert that there are four wells in the community from which residents may take water.4 However, a visit to the community revealed that only two working wells actually exist in Schinoasa. This means that each well must serve the needs of around two hundred people. Aside from a lack of access to water, the water that is available to the Roma of Schinoasa is visibly unclean. Water pulled from the wells is yellow in colour, possibly due to the large amount of sand and mud in it.

   
One of the two wells in the Schinoasa community.
Photo: ERRC

Houses in the settlement also do not have electricity. Roma from Schinoasa report that they could not afford to pay the electric bills, so their supply was cut off by local authorities in Tibirica. Practically all of the houses in the community are unsuitable for living. However, the inhabitants of Schinoasa lack the financial capacity to purchase new dwellings, or even attempt to make minor repairs on their present homes. Residents of Schinoasa report that they have never received any support from local authorities to build new houses or repair damage to their present houses.
Education

Children from Schinoasa attend primary school in the community from the first through the fourth class. During field visits to Schinoasa in August 2001 and again in December 2001, it was estimated that only 26 children out of 70 school-age children were actually attending classes.

The school in Schinoasa is situated in the yard of a Romani family in the community. It comprises two small rooms, which are filled with dilapidated desks and blackboards. There are no windows in the building and the glass pane is missing from the window in the entrance door. At the time I last visited, a piece of cardboard had been placed where the glass once was, but this did not look like it did much to keep out the elements. The building also lacked a source of heat, and in wintertime the inside of the school is reportedly only a little warmer than outside.

The teaching staff at the school in Schinoasa consists of two non-Romani teachers from Tibirica who possess only an elementary school education themselves. Their interest in their teaching appears weak at best: During my several visits to the community, the school was not even open, and the teachers were nowhere to be found. Romani children in the community report that the teachers are only present at the school for two hours per day, though not every day. The level of knowledge of the children also attests to this. Many students are 10 or 12 years old by the time they reach the first form, yet they are still for the most part unable to read or count. Romani children attending the school in Schinoasa also state that they have no textbooks, and they cannot afford to purchase notebooks, pens, or pencils necessary for their lessons.

   
The primary school in Schinoasa, consisting of one room and an entrance hall.
Photo: ERRC

Romani children from Schinoasa rarely attend classes past the fourth form. For the fifth through the 12th form, students from Schinoasa must attend school in Tibirica. Under Soviet rule, students from Schinoasa were bused to school in Tibirica free-of-charge. However, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, this service is no longer free-of-charge, nor do the local authorities in Tibirica cover the costs. The high cost of fuel and the fee for the bus driver are too high for the residents of Schinoasa, who frequently cannot even afford sufficient food. Mr Anton Spinu, the mayor of Tibirica, stated that the children from Schinoasa are permitted to attend classes in Tibirica. However, this is difficult for them, particularly in the winter, because they have to walk 3-4 kilometres per day to get to school.5

Students from Schinoasa state that they do not want to attend school in Tibirica. The reasons for this are many and varied. The few pupils (less than five students from Schinoasa attend school in Tibirica) from Schinoasa who attend school in Tibirica are reportedly subjected to violence and ridicule by their classmates and teachers, because they are Romani. Students report being beaten by their fellow pupils in Tibirica and being called names by their teachers. Parents are also reluctant to allow their children to attend classes in Tibirica for this reason. Many Romani children in Schinoasa also told me that they do not want to go to school in Tibirica due to the difference in age between themselves and many of the non-Romani pupils. Many of the students of Schinoasa are older than the normal age of students in the class they attend, and for this reason, they feel humiliated. The marginalisation of Schinoasa Roma is a cycle that begins at a very early age.

The library in Schinoasa, like the school, is situated in the yard of a Romani family. In the entrance door is a piece of cardboard where a glass pane apparently once was. The books in the library are old and no one from the community was able to remember the last time new books were brought in. Only one third of the books in the library are written in Moldovan. The rest are in Russian, which neither the children nor anyone else in the community can read. Access to the library is limited. The librarian, a non-Romani woman from Tibirica, comes only twice a week for half a day. Schinoasa residents report that a number of items in the library, for example the chairs and carpets, were taken by a former librarian.

The mayor of Tibirica told me that the yearly budget of Tibirica is 800,000 Moldovan lei (approximately 68,000 euros). The budget for culture and education was, he said, 18,000 lei (approximately 1,530 euros) per year. Of this amount, only 240 lei (approximately 20 euros) per year are reportedly allocated for upkeep of the school, and 240 lei (approximately 20 euros) per year for the upkeep of the library in Schinoasa.6 The owners of the school building and the library report that all repairs to the buildings, no matter how minimal, have been at their own expense.

Article 35 of the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova states that general education is obligatory, thus ensuring the citizens of Moldova the right to education.7 That this right is extended to all residents of Moldova is debatable, for the reasons outlined above.

Employment

The cost of living in Moldova is 1,290-1,400 lei (approximately 110-120 euros). This is the minimum amount of money required in a month for adequate shelter and food, paying utilities, etc. The average wage in Moldova is 710-820 lei (approximately 60-70 euros) per month. Roma from Schinoasa earn far less than this amount in a month, when they earn anything at all.

Opportunities for employment in Schinoasa are non-existent. The three public posts that exist, two teaching posts and the librarian, are filled by residents of Tibirica. The fact that none of the residents of Schinoasa possess the necessary education to fill such posts is often used as justification for not hiring any Roma from Schinoasa.

Further, Roma in Schinoasa have to date been unable to set up private enterprises for a number of reasons. The first obstacle to setting up a business, according to Schinoasa residents, is finance. To set up a private enterprise in Moldova, a license fee must be paid. This fee is approximately 1,200 Moldovan lei (approximately 10 euros), an amount of money that few residents of Schinoasa can afford. There have reportedly been a few instances in the past in which a resident has paid the fee and set up a business in the community. However, according to locals, in every instance, such persons were forced to close down after being victimised by criminals.

Most of the men of Schinoasa engage in seasonal employment on farms in eastern Ukraine for approximately three months per year. This work is extremely physically demanding, but the money paid is the best available to Roma from Schinoasa. Pay for this type of work is approximately 100 to 150 euros per month, and although no food is provided to the workers, they are given water. Residents report however, that they are often robbed on their way home, particularly in the Charkiv region of Ukraine. The Roma also report that Ukrainian customs officials sometimes confiscate their wages as they cross the border back into Moldova.

Another source of income, albeit meagre, available to the residents of Schinoasa, is day work. In Tibirica and neighbouring communities, Schinoasa Roma are, at times, able to find work on farms, performing physically difficult tasks, on a day-by-day basis. This option is typically pursued by women, children and the elderly, who cannot travel to Ukraine to engage in more prosperous activities. The pay for this work in Moldova is only about 10 lei (approximately 0.8 euros) per day. Schinoasa residents also engage in begging as a means of existence, in Tibirica and other surrounding communities.

Social Services

Social benefits represent the only regular source of income available for Roma in Schinoasa, but even these payments are not nearly enough. Only 30 community members receive unemployment benefits, and these amount to only 60 Moldovan lei (approximately 5 euros) per month. Many residents of Schinoasa are excluded from social benefits because they are not registered to receive them. They are unable to register for such benefits because they are not officially registered when they are born, and are therefore not recognised as citizens (or, in fact, as living). They are therefore ineligible for social benefits. The child benefits available, in Moldova, upon the birth of a child, until the child reaches two years of age, is another possible source of income for Roma in Schinoasa. The payment under this programme is around 50 Moldovan lei (approximately 4.5 euros) per month. However, the allocation of this benefit is problematic for the residents of Schinoasa, because in order to receive the benefit, the child must be registered. Although the children of Schinoasa are usually born in a hospital, they must be registered by the mayor’s office to receive the official certificate of birth, for which a passport, certificate of marriage, medical certification and 10-12 Moldovan lei (less than 1 euro) is required. In many instances, residents of Schinoasa do not manage to provide one or more of these requirements and are therefore unable to secure birth certificates for their children. They are therefore not able to claim the child allowance.

Extreme Poverty

The absence of any steady and stable form of employment, coupled with impediments to access to social services for Roma from Schinoasa, severely limits the purchasing power of this community. People from Schinoasa purchase what little food they can afford from the market in Tibirica, approximately 3-4 kilometres away. Such items as a loaf of bread and salt are among the only items purchased here, though even these can be difficult to afford for Roma from Schinoasa. Mostly, Schinoasa Roma rely on scavenging food from the fields surrounding the village as their primary source of nutrition.8

Interviews conducted with various members of the community revealed that Roma from Schinoasa rarely purchase clothing or shoes. 9 This is a result of high unemployment within the community, coupled with poor access to social services. What money residents do have is put towards the purchase of food, leaving next to nothing for other purchases. When clothing and similar items are purchased, it is usually from second-hand clothing stores, though even such clothing can be too costly for Schinoasa Roma. During my visit to Schinoasa, I saw young children walking in the streets naked.

Contact with the outside world is also restricted by extreme poverty of the residents of Schinoasa. For the past five years, there have been no telephone connections in Schinoasa. The service to the community was cut off by local authorities because the residents could not afford to pay the bills. This creates a particularly hazardous situation for the Schinoasa Roma, because when emergency medical assistance is needed, residents must walk 3-4 kilometres to Tibirica to seek assistance.

Roma in Schinoasa do not hear the national radio programme in Moldova because they have no electricity for radios. Nor can they afford to pay the costs of magazines or newspapers. The Romani community at Schinoasa is therefore forced into a situation of extreme isolation due to their economic circumstances.

   
Mr Rusu Sava lives in this house in Schinoasa with other five members of his family. The building is only 12 square metres in size.
Photo: ERRC

Conclusions

Extreme poverty exists when a person, or group of people, is denied the opportunity to live a long, healthy and productive life. People living in extreme poverty are unable to achieve their full potential because they cannot access many things that most people take for granted; things as seemingly basic as access to health care, education, employment opportunities, adequate and safe housing and food.

The reasons for this lack of opportunity among the Roma of Schinoasa are numerous. Racism and discriminatory attitudes are one cause. A lack of representation in local politics places prospects for assistance and development ever further out of the reach of the Schinoasa Roma. Geographic isolation worsens the impoverished condition of the community of Schinoasa.

Extreme poverty is passed from one generation to the next. In many poor communities, such as Schinoasa, schools are overcrowded, or as in the case of Schinoasa, only open sporadically, and teachers are under-qualified. Parents and children therefore have little motivation to pursue education vigorously, as it is more beneficial for students not to attend school, but instead to work, helping to support the family. This drastically reduces the opportunities a child will have later in life, perpetuating a dismal cycle of poverty.

ERRC Submits Written Comments Concerning Roma Rights Issues in the Republic of Moldova to UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

On March 11, 2001, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) reviewed the compliance of the Republic of Moldova with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). In the run-up to the meeting, on March 6, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) sent written comments to the Committee for consideration during its review.

In its written comments concerning the Republic of Moldova, the ERRC drew attention particularly to the government?s failure to comply with Articles 2, 3 and 5 of the convention: Roma suffer racial segregation in the fields of education and housing in the Republic of Moldova, in contravention of Article 3 of the convention. To date, actions by Moldovan authorities to end such segregation are ineffective and in fact broadly unknown. The government?s measures to ensure effective protection of Roma in Moldova against racially-motivated violence and discrimination have also to date been ineffective. Roma in Moldova are subjected to violence by both public officials and non-state actors. Furthermore, Roma suffer discrimination in the criminal justice system, leaving them without recourse to adequate judicial remedies when they suffer violent abuse. Law enforcement and judicial authorities in Moldova are often reluctant to investigate and prosecute alleged perpetrators of violence against Roma, especially when the alleged perpetrators are themselves law-enforcement officials. Legal provisions aimed at combating racial discrimination are insufficient. Although the government has provided the committee with no less than 51 numbered points on legal provisions which it contends are relevant for combating discrimination, these appear to be of little practical importance for persons seeking redress for acts of racial discrimination or racially motivated violence. There are, furthermore, disturbing reports of violations of the political rights of Roma in Moldova, as well as widespread reports that Roma in Moldova suffer marginalisation and discrimination in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, most notably the rights to housing and education and training. The ERRC was especially concerned to note that, according to the Government?s own data, the number of Roma attending university appears to have dropped precipitously between the 1998/1999 and 1999/2000 school years. The ERRC additionally provided the Committee with a list of possible questions to the Moldovan Government, as well as a number of recommendations to the Government, aimed at securing Moldova?s compliance with the Convention.

The full text of the ERRC submission is available at:
http://www.errc.org/Litigation_index.php.
Committee conclusions are available on:
http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf.

Endnotes:

  1. Nicolae Radiţa is the local monitor of Roma rights in Moldova for the ERRC. The information in this field report was collected during his visits to Schinoasa in August and December 2001, unless otherwise noted.
  2. An interview with Mr Anton Spinu, Mayor of Tibirica, on August 11, 2001, revealed that only 275 people from Schinoasa are legally registered as residents in Tibirica.
  3. Interview with Mr Anton Spinu, Mayor of Tibirica, August 11, 2001.
  4. Interview with Mr Anton Spinu, Mayor of Tibirica, August 11, 2001.
  5. Interview with Mr Anton Spinu, Mayor of Tibirica, August 11, 2001.
  6. Budget information gathered during an interview with Mr Anton Spinu, Mayor of Tibirica, August 11, 2001.
  7. See Constitution of the Republic of Moldova, Article 35. Adopted July 29, 1994.
  8. Interviews conducted on August 11, 2001.
  9. Interviews conducted on August 11, 2001.

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