Tenuous Living Conditions for Roma Throughout Greece

Theodoros Alexandridis1

between June and August of 2002, the ERRC conducted field missions to Rhodes, Crete, Lamia, Thebes, and Evoia in Greece, in partnership with the Athens-based non-governmental organisation Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM).

On June 4, 2002, the ERRC/GHM met with Romani leaders on the island of Rhodes in Karakonero and Aghioi Apostoloi, near the capital city Rhodes. In a statement given to the ERRC/GHM, 29-year-old Mr Dionysios Aristopoulos, a Romani man living in Karakonero, reported that his family, together with twenty-four other families, had been living in Karakonero for three years, some of them for more than twelve years, after having been forced out of the plot they had previously lived on in Rodini, a nearby village. Mr Aristopoulos reported to the ERRC/GHM that the families feared that they would be evicted to make way for a new harbour that was planned. Mr Aristopoulos's fears appear to be well grounded. On September 5, 2001, the ERRC/GHM assisted Mr Aristopoulos file a complaint with the Greek Ombudsman's Office because members of the municipal police force were reportedly exerting pressure on the families to move. In a letter dated November 15, 2001, Mr Yannopoulos, the Mayor of Rhodes, denied that any such pressure had ever been exerted on the Roma and further denied the fact that Roma permanently resided on the island. Mr Yannopoulos argued that only Roma from other parts of Greece occasionally arrived in Rhodes. Mr Aristopoulos further reported to the ERRC/GHM that his community had inadequate access to running water and no access to electricity. Garbage from the settlement was reportedly never picked up and school authorities were reportedly indifferent as to whether the Romani children attended school or not, despite Section B of Circular F 4/115/G 1/791 of 2001 from the Ministry for Education that amends an earlier Circular, which stresses, "[…] the principals and teaching staff should not only admit Romani school children at school, even if they do not have all the necessary documents, but they should also actively try to find them, in co-operation with the schoolchildren's parents and other competent agencies, in order to ensure the schoolchildren's school attendance" (the text of the Circular is available in Greek at http://www.stratari.gr/daskalos/d/nomouesia/egg791-01.html).

Similarly, 23-year-old Mr Charalambos Tarapasos of the Aghioi Apostoloi suburb of the city of Rhodes reported that fourteen Romani families had been living in the suburb for the past seven years. The families were squatting on private land, but according to Mr Tarapasos, some of the landowners provided the families with water and electricity. However, their garbage was reportedly collected erratically and their access to running water was inadequate. Mr Tarapasos also reported that the children do not attend school for the full length of the school year, but drop out. Both Mr Aristopoulos and Mr Tarapasos informed the ERRC/GHM that they were aware of some efforts to relocate them on the part of municipal authorities, but they did not know the exact location of the proposed relocation site or any details. Mr Tarapasos reported to the ERRC/GHM that he had been told five months previous that the families would be moved to an area called Koskinou, approximately 4-5 kilometres from Rhodes, together with all the other Roma of Rhodes. The ERRC is monitiring the situation.

During a field mission to the island of Crete on June 27, 2002, the ERRC/GHM found that Roma in the area face many similar problems. Mr Stavros Anastasopoulos, a 56-year-old Romani man from the Nerokuru Romani settlement, just outside the city of Chania, told the ERRC/GHM that approximately fifty families were squatting on private land but had reached an agreement with the landowners whereby they paid small sum of money as rent to stay there. Mr Anastasopoulos also stated that the agreements were set to expire in September 2002 and the Romani families were looking for locations to resettle. Mr Anastasopoulos said he was unaware of any plans from the local municipality to resettle them. ERRC/GHM research revealed that the agreements were not renewed and as of November 18, 2002, some Roma from the settlement had moved in with relatives while others were living on the streets. He also informed the ERRC/GHM that garbage is not collected from the settlement, so the families were forced to throw their garbage into nearby fields, giving rise to complaints from their neighbours. Mr Anastasopoulos also told the ERRC/GHM that because the prefecture authorities did not provide a school bus, the children from the settlement had dropped out of school because the school was five kilometres from the settlement.

According to testimony given to the ERRC/GHM on June 29, 2002, by Mr Georgios Serapheimopoulos, a 52-year-old Romani man from the Nea Alikarnassos settlement outside the city of Herakleion on the island of Crete, the Mayor of Nea Alikarnassos, Mr Ioannes Paterakes, had refused to allow the registration of Roma from the settlement into the municipal rolls on numerous occasions. Approximately ten Romani families were reportedly registered in the local municipal rolls roughly fours years previously, shortly before a municipal election. Mr Serapheimopoulos reported that about fifty Romani families had been living in the settlement for approximately twenty years at the time of the ERRC/GHM visit. According to Mr Serapheimopoulos, most Roma in the settlement could not vote because they were not registered. Mr Serapheimopoulos further reported to the ERRC/GHM that Mayor Paterakes had in the past twice attempted to intimidate the Romani families. Mr Serapheimopoulos believed that this was an attempt to make them leave. In 1997, the Municipal Council of Nea Alikarnassos issued an eviction protocol against Roma living in the settlement, which the Mayor unsuccessfully sought to enforce in 1999, and on August 10, 2000, a second, almost identical eviction order was issued, which, on September 5, 2000, the Greek Ombudsman stated was likely to also be declared abusive.According to Mr Serapheimopoulos, Mayor Paterakes had, in the past, not allowed the families to take any measures to ameliorate their living conditions, for example, by fining sewage removal truck drivers for entering the settlement to empty sewage facilities built by the families.

On July 15, 2002, the ERRC/GHM met with Mr Dimitrios Christopoulos, a 52-year-old Romani man from the Pagrati Romani settlement in the city of Lamia, approximately three hundred kilometres northwest of Athens. Mr Christopoulos informed the ERRC/GHM that twenty-five families comprising approximately two hundred people had reportedly been residing on municipal and private land for around thirty years in very poor conditions. According to Mr Christopoulos, one water tap serviced all of the families and whileapproximately half of the families reportedly had electricity, only one of the families had an electric meter. Garbage was reportedly collected infrequently in the settlement and Roma living here reportedly frequently resorted to burning their garbage. An employee at the Lamia Town Hall informed the ERRC/GHM that some of the owners of the land on which the settlement is located allegedly lodged a complaintwith the Lamia Town Planning Authorities. According to the Town Hall employee, the case was to be forwarded to the local prosecutor for a decision. As of November 18, 2002, the ERRC/GHM was not aware if the case had been forwarded or if any measures had been implemented against the Roma.

On July 15, 2002, Mr Pantelis Tsakiris, a 52-year-old Romani man living in the Platanaki Romani settlement, outside of Lamia, told the ERRC/GHM that approximately one hundred Romani families, comprising around eight hundred people, were living on the bank of a river, which reportedly flooded in the wintertime. According to Mr Tsakiris, though the families had been living in the settlement for more than ten years, only rudimentary steps to improve their daily life have been taken by municipal authorities. Ten water taps provided water to the entire settlement and there was no provision of electricity. Mr Tsakiris reported that no sewage facilities existed in the settlement and garbage collection had stopped approximately one year before,following the destruction of the four garbage bins that served the whole community by some Roma. Mr Tsakiris also stated that the children had not attended classes for the past three years because no teacher had shown up at the school in the settlement.

In the Phri Romani settlement in Thebes, approximately ninety kilometres northwest of Athens, the ERRC/GHM noted that seventy-seven families, comprising around three hundred and fifty people, live in prefabricated houses, 25-square-metres in size,of which sixty-five were installed in 1999 and the remaining twelve in February 2002. TheERRC/GHM noted that one prefabricated home was rationed per family, regardless of the size of the family. Mr Giannis Michalopoulos, a 41-year-old Romani man told the ERRC/GHM, that originally eighty-four prefabricated houses were to be installed but seven had been "appropriated" by various municipal authorities. Only the prefabricated homes installed in 1999 had a water meter and only about half of these had electricity. None of the families had reportedly been provided with a telephone line. According to Mr Michalopoulos, there was only one garbage disposal bin for the entire settlement and garbage was not collected regularly. Another issue noted by Mr Michalopoulos was that approximately one hundred children from the settlement had not attended school for 2 years, because the headmaster at the 4th Primary School stated that enrolling the children would cause an uproar among the local ethnicGreeks. Mr Michalopoulos stated that when the Roma parents tried to enrol their children in the school, they were told to "go away," so they gave up trying.

On August 9, 2002, ERRC/GHM visited the Romani settlement in Chalkida on the island of Evoia. At the time of the ERRC/GHM visit, eleven families had been living in sheds on the property of Chalkida's Home for the Elderly for the last 3 years. According to Mr Demetrios Tsakiris, the 74-year-old Romani leader of the settlement, the community had been provided with a water tap two months prior to the ERRC/GHM field visit. There was reportedly no electricity, no sewage or garbage collection facilities, so Roma from the settlement frequently had to burn their garbage. Mr Tsakiris informed the ERRC/GHM that out of the forty school aged children living in the settlement, only three had enrolled in and attended school the previous year.

On the same day, the ERRC/GHM also visited the Istiaia Romani settlement in the Xerias river. Six Romani families had permanently been living on the bank of the Xerias torrent for the past thirty years, while another ten families reportedly migrate to the area during the summer months. According to Mr Thomas Siamanoes, a 72-year-old Romani man, the settlement had acquired its only water tap about ten days before the ERRC/GHM field visit, but still did not have electricity, sewage and garbage disposal facilities. According to Mr Siamanoes, none of the ten school-age children who lived in the settlement had attended school for the last two years.

Finally, on August 10, 2002, ERRC/GHM visited the Romani settlement of Kastella on the island of Evoia. According to Mr N.K, a 32-year-old Romani man, forty Romani families had been living in twenty small houses for the last fifty years. According to Mr N.K., relations with the local non-Romani population were bad. Roma were often subjected to derogatory remarks about their ethnicity by ethnic Greeks in the village. Mr N.K. further reported to the ERRC/GHM that only twenty of the sixty school-age children in the settlement attended school, and only around ten children had graduated the year before. Mr N.K. reported that the Romani children in the settlement attended the 2nd Primary School situated next to the Romani settlement in the village, where one teacher taught all of the Romani children regardless of their age or the level they had reached. Ethnic Greek children reportedly attended the 1st Primary School, only three hundred metres from the settlement.

Poverty among Roma is rampant throughout Greece. The ERRC believes that poverty is passed from one generation to the next. In many poor Romani communities, such as those visited by the ERRC/GHM in Greece, Romani children are denied access to equal education, or in some cases, access to any education. Schools attended by Romani children tend to be open sporadically as teachers fail to show up, or in other cases, children are denied quality education because a single teacher is responsible for the proper education of children of many ages and levels in the same class. This drastically reduces the opportunities a child will have later in life, perpetuating a dismal cycle of poverty. Greece is a signatory to the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which states in Article 13(1) that, "The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to education. They agree that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. They further agree that education shall enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society, promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace." 

A Romani woman with her and other children in Riganokampos, Patras, north-western Peloponesse, November 2001.
Photo: ERRC/Greek Helsinki Monitor

Impoverished Roma in Greece face the added burden of insecurity of tenure in the "homes" that they have built for themselves and their families, given the little that they have. Article 11(1) of the ICESCR states that, "The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. [...] "On May 20, 1997, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in its General Comment 7, expanded on this to include, in Article 8, "The State itself must refrain from forced evictions and ensure that the law is enforced against its agents or third parties who carry out forced evictions […]," and in Article 16, "Evictions should not result in individuals being rendered homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights. Where those affected are unable to provide for themselves, the State Party must take all appropriate measures, to the maximum of its available resources, to ensure that adequate alternative housing, resettlement or access to productive land, as the case may be, is available." Greek authorities have failed to meet their obligations as required under the Covenant with respect to Roma, and according to Roma with whom the ERRC/GHM spoke during it's field visit in Greece, actively seek to prevent the realisation of such rights.

Endnotes:

  1. Theodoros Alexandridis is an ERRC local monitor based in Athens, Greece. During this field mission, Minority Rights Group-Greece (MRG-G) was also substantively involved.

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