Greek authorities evict Roma
03 October 2000
The ERRC, in cooperation with the Athens-based non-governmental organisation Greek Helsinki Monitor has documented that Roma are being evicted from settlements near Athens to clear ground for sports facilities for the 2004 Olympics. The Greek capital will host the Olympic Games and has undertaken massive construction efforts to that end; however, no adequate housing has been provided for the approximately 3000 Romani tent-dwellers of Aspropyrgos and Ano Liosia in the suburbs of Athens. These people live without any infrastructure, close to garbage dumps. In July 2000, authorities of these two municipalities started what they called "cleaning operations", as a result of which Roma were evicted and their shacks leveled. They were reportedly not shown proper legal authorisations prior to the forced evictions.
On July 14, 2000, a municipal bulldozer entered the settlement of Romani tent-dwellers in Aspropyrgos, fifteen kilometers west of Athens, and demolished most of the huts, in the presence of the Mayor of Aspropyrgos and the police. The huts belonged to Greek and Albanian Roma and contained their personal belongings. Seven or eight Greek Romani families with sick members, unable to move, were given the ultimatum to leave the site by July 17. No eviction protocols were presented to the Romani families. Furthermore, the operation was carried out without the authorisation or presence of a public prosecutor, as is required under Greek law in cases of violation of home privacy. According to the police, this was a municipal "cleaning operation" to empty the site of vacant shacks belonging to "Albanian Gypsies". Local Roma filed a complaint with the Greek Ombudsman's Office and on July 25 the latter wrote to the Mayor and the City Council of Aspropyrgos, inquiring whether the July 14 operation had been preceded by a city council decision and whether the Romani inhabitants had been presented with the protocols of administrative eviction. The letter noted that if this procedure had not been observed, the operation would be in breach of Article 241 (violation of security of home) and Article 331 (taking the law into one's own hands) of the Greek Criminal Code. Local authorities allegedly responded that they had "cleaned" the area for the benefit of the Roma living there. As of October 10, the Greek Helsinki Monitor intended to present further evidence in the form of pictures of destroyed shacks, and will press the Ombudsman's Office to pursue the case.
A few days prior to the operation, the Mayor of Ano Liosia, another western suburb of Athens, allegedly paid each family of local Romani tent dwellers 100,000 drachmas (approximately 300 euros) to leave the area, and then leveled their huts. Roma have lived on the site for a number of years. The municipality promised the Roma water supply and garbage collection in 1996. These promises were not kept: the settlement continues to be plagued by inadequate refuse removal and rats.
Further forced evictions of Roma may result from a new resolution adopted by the Municipal Council of Midea, in the Peloponnese region of southern Greece in July 2000. The resolution claims that Roma pose a threat to people passing through the busy crossroads around which they reside. It further states that Roma are responsible for extremely high crime rates in the area. The resolution recommends that local Roma owning land should be allowed to remain in the region, but should be moved to property in another area. For those Roma without property, the resolution suggests establishing a "suitable place" for their accommodation, with appropriate infrastructure. In light of repeated forced evictions of Roma in Greece, the ERRC fears municipal authorities may attempt to expel Roma from Midea in the near future.
The Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) released a report examining racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, antisemitism and related intolerance in Greece on June 27, 2000. The report expresses concern that although recently the Greek government has initiated programs aimed at improving living conditions for Roma, "the implementation of the action plan often encounters resistance at the local level. Local communities are sometimes unwilling to welcome the members of this minority group." The report expresses concern specifically, that "Roma/Gypsies living in camps often face extremely harsh living conditions. In recent years, including 1999, some municipal authorities have expelled communities of Roma/Gypsies from the camps in which they had lived for many years, in certain cases without providing alternative accommodation. This has sometimes resulted in Roma/Gypsies being repeatedly expelled from each new place they attempted to settle. These expulsions were sometimes accompanied, apparently unhindered by the police, by the destruction and arson of houses, and by threats and humiliating treatment by local authorities and municipal employees." According to ECRI, Roma are furthermore excluded from many normal citizenship rights and benefits such as public social security and health care. They experience discrimination in various areas of public life, for example, when attempting to rent accommodation or to enter public spaces such as restaurants. Educational opportunities may be inadequate, resulting in low levels of literacy among Roma living in camps. The report concludes that "these problems are connected to the generally low level of recognition within Greek society of its multicultural reality" and recommends to the Greek authorities that further action be taken to combat racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance in a number of areas. For further information on forced evictions of Roma in Greece, see "Notebook", Roma Rights 2/2000.
(CERD, ECRI, ERRC, Greek Helsinki Monitor)